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Every sport has a rivalry that pits two greats against each other and cements the legacies of the two players, canonizing them as the best in their respective sports. Lin Dan may be, to many, the greatest badminton player in history. But without one man, his greatness would either feel ill-deserved or lackluster. This man is none other than his rival, Malaysian badminton superstar Lee Chong Wei.
Lee Chong Wei was born in Bagan Serai, Perak on October 21, 1982. Lee Chong Wei began his badminton journey at age 11. His introduction to badminton led to a career of numerous titles and championships, including several Badminton World Federation (BWF) Open titles, Commonwealth Games gold medals, and three Olympic silver medals. Lee Chong Wei’s consistency as a men’s singles player is well-documented, as proven by his 310-week grip on the BWF #1 ranking. Besides this feat, he’s famous for his rivalry with Chinese badminton GOAT, Lin Dan.
Learn more about the man who’s the Frazier to Lin Dan’s Ali!
Lee Chong Wei was born on October 21, 1982, to Malaysian-Chinese parents. He’s the son of Khor Kim Choi and Lee Ah Chai. Lee Chong Wei was an active boy, participating in sports like basketball when he was young. However, when he turned 11, he was influenced by his dad to play badminton.
His introduction to the sport began when his father brought him to a badminton hall. Recreationally, Lee Chong Wei played badminton with others in the badminton hall, catching the eye of one a badminton coach. This badminton coach was Teh Peng Huat. Seeing Lee Chong Wei’s potential, Teh Peng Huat took Lee in as a pupil.
Under the tutelage of Teh Peng Huat, Lee Chong Wei trained and competed as a youth player for six years. In 2000, Lee Chong Wei entered the national squad. He was 17 at the time and entered the academy after being discovered by Misbun Sidek. Sidek is a former badminton medalist and currently the Badminton Association of Malaysia’s Director of Youth Development.
Early Pro Career
Lee Chong Wei’s earliest successes were in 2001. On December 9, 2001, Lee Chong Wei won silver at the 2001 Malaysian Satellite, where he won four out of his five matches.
His 2002 season didn’t get off to the best of starts as he bowed out early in the 2002 Korean Open. He experienced the same early-round knockout in the 2002 Japan Open. He managed to turn in better results during the latter half of his 2002 campaign, notching a win and a medal in the India Open.
He tasted his first medal at a major BWF event in 2003 when he won silver at the Proton Eon Malaysia Open. At the event, he won five out of six of his matches, losing to Chen Hong in the finals. Lee Chong Wei also capped off his 2003 career with an impressive showing at the Luster Malaysia Satellite, where he won gold in the men’s singles.
2004 — An Eventful Year for Lee Chong Wei
Lee Chong Wei’s 2004 campaign was off to a flying start but he then bagged gold in the 2004 Proton-Eon Malaysia Open. He won all six of his matches in a decisive fashion, battling his way to his first gold medal — and in a major BWF tournament, too!
His 2004 rout didn’t stop there. In that year, Lee Chong Wei also qualified for the Olympic Games in Athens. There, he represented his country for the first time. Unfortunately, he lost to China’s Chen Hong in the round of 16.
Despite his Olympic loss, Lee Chong Wei bounced back with impressive performances in his last 2004 appearances. On November 21, 2004, he beat Danish shuttler Kenneth Johanssen at the Aviva Singapore Open, winning silver. Lee Chong Wei then capped 2004 off with a gold medal win at the Chinese Taipei Open when he beat fellow Malaysian, Kuan Beng Hong.
2005 — The Beginning of a Rivalry
Lee Chong Wei was riding the momentum of back-to-back podium-worthy performances at the 2005 Yonex German Open and Yonex All England Open. Motivated by his 2005 wins, Lee Chong Wei went into the Proton Malaysia Open with all the confidence that a shuttler can have.
Little did he know that it was in the 2005 Proton Malaysia Open where he would meet a player who would motivate him to greatness — Lin Dan.
By 2005, Lin Dan had already carved a reputation as the badminton world’s number one player. Before the 2005 Proton Malaysia Open, Lin Dan had already won German and Hong Kong Opens, as well as the 2004 Thomas Cup. Lin Dan was entering the Malaysian Open as the world’s number one badminton player — and he was about to cross paths with a confident Lee Chong Wei.
To nobody’s surprise at the 2005 Malaysia Open, Lee Chong Wei beat Lin Dan in the first game of their finals match. However, the first game was won by a tie-breaker, awarding Lee Chong Wei 17 points and Lin Dan 15.
The second game shocked many as Lin Dan beat Lee Chong Wei 15 to 9. A third game would decide the winner of the 2005 Malaysian Open.
Lee Chong Wei made a dramatic comeback, beating Lin Dan 15 points to 9 and ultimately winning the Malaysian Open. Lee Chong Wei’s jubilance was palpable as he smashed his fist on the floor following the match-deciding win.
While it wasn’t Lee Chong Wei’s first gold medal on Malaysian soil, it was a match to remember. Never had he faced a badminton player like Lin Dan. The meeting would be the first of many in a rivalry that would last more than a decade.
After 2005, Lee Chong Wei and Lin Dan faced off 39 more times, with the former beating the latter 12 times in their 40 meetings.
Lee Chong Wei’s Malaysian Open Dominance
Lee Chong Wei was a mainstay in many tournaments. Like most greats, he has competed several times in each tournament like the Yonex All England Open and Super Series. However, one tournament he enjoyed recurrent success at was the Malaysian Open.
Lee Chong Wei’s first Malaysian Open title was in 2003 when he faced Chen Hong. Losing the match, Lee Chong Wei won his first silver at a major BWF open tournament.
After 2003, Lee Chong Wei was a recurrent sensation in many Malaysian Opens. He won his first Malaysian Open gold medal in 2004 when he defeated Park Sung-hwan in the finals. In 2005, Lee Chong Wei also captured the Malaysian Open crown when he defeated Lin Dan — a feat Lee Chong Wei repeated at the 2006 Malaysian Open.
Lee Chong Wei won his fourth Malaysia Open gold medal on January 20, 2008. He defeated South Korean shuttler, Lee Hyun-il, in a nail-biting match that went to a third game. His 2008 Malaysian Open victory was the first in a hat-trick of other Malaysian Open victories. Lee Chong Wei would also chalk up two back-to-back Malaysian Open gold medal wins in 2009 and 2010.
In 2011, Lee Chong Wei won the highly-anticipated Malaysian Open finals match against Indonesian superstar, Taifuk Hidayat. In a decisive fashion, he defeated his Indonesian opponent in two consecutive games.
Lee Chong Wei’s dominance of the Malaysian Open didn’t stop there. He went on to bag more gold medals from 2013 to 2014. On April 10, 2016, Lee Chong Wei was able to avenge his first Malaysian Open loss as he defeated Chen Long in the finals to win the gold.
In 2017, Lee Chong Wei was dethroned from his Malaysian Open reign by his long-time rival, Lin Dan. However, Lee Chong Wei bounced back from his 2017 Malaysian Open loss, defeating Japanese star Kento Momota to win the gold medal in 2018.
Lee Chong Wei’s Olympic Silver Hat-Trick
Lee Chong Wei competed in his first Olympic event in 2004. However, as mentioned earlier, he tasted elimination early at the hands (and racket) of Chinese powerhouse, Chen Hong.
Despite a less-than-stellar first outing, Lee Chong Wei aspired for Olympic glory for himself and his country. As a result, he competed once again at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing. There, he won five out of six of his matches, winning a silver medal. In the finals, he lost to his rival, Lin Dan.
Lee Chong Wei’s 2008 Olympic performance was special for two reasons. First, it was here where he won his first Olympic title. Second, it was in the 2008 Olympics where Lee Chong Wei made Malaysian badminton history by being the first Malaysian singles badminton player to reach an Olympic final.
He competed once again in the 2012 London Olympics. It was here where he won silver again after a hard-fought game against his long-time rival, Lin Dan.
In the semi-finals of the 2016 Rio Olympics, the two rivals met once again. Lee Chong Wei defeated Lin Dan in the semi-finals, but Lee lost in the finals to Chen Long.
In total, Lee Chong Wei has brought Malaysia three Olympic silver medals — a feat achieved by no other Malaysian badminton player before Lee. Lee Chong Wei’s unparalleled success in three consecutive Olympic games led to his proclamation as a national hero. His Olympic success among others in the field of badminton also earned him the title of “Datuk.”
Doping and Suspension
Right around Lee Chong Wei’s silver medal win at the 2014 World Championships, Lee became involved in a doping scandal. After the examination of urine samples before and after the Championships, Lee Chong Wei tested positive for an illegal substance. His urine samples contained traces of dexamethasone, a corticosteroid used to reduce inflammation.
Upon the discovery and confirmation of the results, the BWF’s doping panel stripped Lee Chong Wei of his 2014 BWF World Championship silver medal. Lee also received a penalty in the form of an eight-month suspension from competition.
Lee Chong Wei was able to return to competition in May 2015, competing at the Sudirman Cup — a tournament he won. He also continued to compete and won gold at the US Open, Canada Open, French Open, China Open, and Hong Kong Open.
Lee Chong Wei announced his retirement on June 13, 2019. Heartbroken, the Malaysian superstar announced that he had to leave the sport due to his battle with nose cancer.
His departure from badminton marked the end of an illustrious career that spanned 19 years. Most importantly, his retirement meant the end of badminton’s greatest rivalry.
According to one BWF article, Lin Dan admits that Lee Chong Wei was pivotal in motivating him to greatness. Upon Lee’s retirement, the Chinese superstar paid tribute to his rival’s departure on Sina Weibo.
Lee Chong Wei was the recipient of many accolades and honors in Malaysia due to his achievements in badminton.
Lee Chong Wei received the Malaysian Order of Merit in 2009. Three years later, Lee Chong Wei became an honorary lieutenant commander of the Royal Malaysian Navy’s Reserve Unit for his achievements in badminton. He was promoted to Commander in 2016 in recognition of his performance in the 2016 Rio Olympics.
Lee Chong Wei was also given an honorary doctorate in sport science from the Science University of Malaysia.
Lee Chong Wei was sponsored by Yonex. Yonex released a special Lee Chong Wei edition of the Duora 10, which the player has used in many of his competitions. Besides a special edition racket, Yonex’s BG66 strings have been in frequent use by the player.
The Lee Chong Wei Badminton Academy
Lee Chong Wei now has a badminton academy in Malaysia. Named the Lee Chong Wei Badminton Academy, the academy offers courses in badminton and badminton coaching. The academy also provides group classes and youth camps to develop young badminton talent.
The academy now has three branches, all of which are in Perak, Malaysia.
A Career of Consistency
Lee Chong Wei may not have had the gold medal yield of his long-time rival, but nobody will disagree that Lee Chong Wei was a mainstay at the highest tiers of the sport. The Malaysian showed that the way to true greatness was through persistent effort and, most importantly, consistency.
And consistent Lee Chong Wei was. His ability to hold the BWF’s number one ranking for more than a year and consistently win gold at many Malaysian Opens is proof of this.
Lee Chong Wei is undoubtedly Malaysia’s best badminton player to date — only time will tell if anyone will fill his shoes.
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