A random survey asking people who the greatest badminton player is will yield one result — Lin Dan. With two Olympic Gold Medals and all prestigious singles championships under his belt, it’s tough to disagree.
Lin Dan was born on October 14, 1983, in Fujian, China. Lin Dan is famous for being the only badminton player to win Olympic gold in the men’s singles event twice in a row. His accolades also include winning all nine major badminton championships, including the Badminton World Championships and Asian Championships. By winning all major championships, Lin Dan has cemented his legacy as being the first men’s singles badminton player to win the Super Grand Slam. Lin Dan announced his retirement on July 4, 2020, putting an end to an illustrious badminton career that spanned 20 years.
Biography and Early Introduction To Badminton
Lin Dan was born on October 14, 1983, in Longyan, one of eight prefectural cities in Fujian Province, China. Lin Dan’s parents were Lin Jiabin and Gao Xiuyu.
Lin Dan belonged to a Hakka Han family. The Hakka are a subgroup of Han Chinese. Members of the Hakka subgroup resided in many of China’s Southern and Southeastern Provinces.
From an early age, Lin Dan was encouraged by his parents to take up piano. He would continue to learn piano until he was four. However, bored by the monotony and repetitiveness of piano classes, the young Lin Dan longed for a more dynamic outlet.
One day, with the permission of his mother, he wandered into a gymnasium that taught Chinese children gymnastics and other sports. It was in this gymnasium his love affair with badminton began.
Lin Dan began training badminton when turned five. According to Lin Dan, what got him hooked was the acquisition of different badminton skills. He also disclosed in an interview with the Badminton World Federation (BWF) that his “innocent love of the game” — he felt — would change his life.
And change his life, it did!
When he turned 12, he won the National Junior Championship. Coincidentally, the People’s Liberation Army Sports team was around to witness his skills on the court. His win led to him being scouted and subsequently recruited.
His stint at the People’s Liberation Army Sports Team led to his being drafted by the Chinese National Badminton Team, in 2001 when he turned 18.
Lin Dan began his badminton career as a youth talent, winning medals in both doubles and singles divisions in the Asian Junior Championships. In his first Asian Junior Championship outing in Yangon, Lin Dan took bronze in the boys’ doubles. This was in 1999 — a year before he took gold in the 2000 Asian Junior Championships.
At the 2000 Asian Junior Championships in Kyoto, Lin Dan won two gold medals. He won one for the team’s category. It was also his first gold medal on the continental stage. And he achieved both at just the age of 18!
In the same year was the BWF World Junior Championships. During the 2000 BWF World Junior Championships, Lin Dan won bronze in the boys’ singles event. He also won gold in the mixed team category.
Early Professional Career
With medals and experience as a junior badminton player, Lin Dan officially kicked off his pro badminton career in 2001. His first tournament as a professional singles badminton player was in 2001. It was in the Asian Badminton Championships which was held in Manila, Philippines.
Besting many of Asia’s most formidable shuttlers, Lin Dan made it to the finals. Despite an impressive showing throughout the tournament, he would bow out to an in-form Xia Xuanze. Xia Xuanze won gold while Lin Dan took silver. Despite coming up short against his compatriot, Lin Dan had taken the first steps to put the badminton world on notice.
Lin Dan then followed his 2001 outing at the Asian Badminton Championships with impressive performances at the 2001 Danish Open. Similarly, Lin Dan lost in the finals to another one of his compatriots, Chunlai Bao. His loss meant another silver medal.
Lin Dan opened up his 2002 pro season as a singles player in roaring fashion. In the final match of the Korea Open, he went up against a skilled South Korean opponent in Seung Mo Shon. He won the match, earning himself his first gold medal as a singles pro.
2003 was a particularly good year for Lin Dan. In 2003, Lin Dan won the Denmark Open, Hong Kong Open, and China Open — a tournament he also won a year later. He also bagged a silver medal for his performance in the Yonex Open Japan.
2004 — “Super Dan”
By 2004, Lin Dan had already amassed enough performances and points to ascend the BWF rankings. Lin Dan officially took the BWF’s top position in February 2004.
Impressive as this accomplishment was, Lin Dan didn’t stop there. Hungry for gold, he notched back-to-back gold medal victories against the badminton world’s best in that year. Lin Dan won gold in the men’s singles in five major BWF tournaments, including the Yonex All England Open.
The Yonex All England Open is one of Lin Dan’s greatest title wins, according to the BWF. And who would argue? After all, he beat fellow badminton great, Peter Gade. And Lin Dan took victory in a nail-biting fashion, coming from behind after losing the first game.
With an impressive 2004, Lin Dan was on his way to notching up future gold medal victories in many other major tournaments. 2004 was the year when the world was introduced to “Super Dan”.
Lin Dan’s First BWF World Championship Win — Second Time’s the Charm
In 2005, Lin Dan qualified for the BWF World Championships in Anaheim, CA. As one of the favorites, Lin Dan was in the finals, along with past opponent Peter Gade. He faced Indonesian superstar, Taufik Hidayat in the finals. At the time, Hidayat was ranked 6th in the world, meaning that the victory was an upset.
Adamant to win the second time, Lin Dan entered the BWF World Championships a year later. It was here where he treated the spectators in Madrid to a display of badminton skill that finally got him the gold medal.
In the finals, he beat Chunlai Bao to win his first BWF World Championship title.
Lin Dan won four more BWF World Championships again in 2007.
After several outings in numerous BWF Open tournaments and Yonex All Englands, Lin Dan eyed Olympic gold. Hence, he entered the 2004 Olympics in Athens only to come up short.
After snagging gold in the 2008 SCG Thailand Grand Prix Gold, he chose to give the Olympics another shot. He then competed in the 2008 Olympics in the men’s singles category. The pressure was on for a hungry Lin Dan as the 2008 Olympics took place on home ground — China.
Once again, he faced Peter Gade in the quarterfinals. Beating his Danish opponent in front of Beijing’s spectators, Lin battled his teammate, Chen Jin, to play against Lee Chong Wei. The match was deemed a dream match featuring two of the badminton world’s best players. Decisively, Lin Dan defeated Lee Chong Wei, winning his first Olympic gold medal.
Lin Dan’s victory in the 2008 Beijing Olympics cemented his reputation further as the badminton world’s number one player. And if that wasn’t impressive enough, Lin Dan won the Olympic gold medal again in 2012 in Wembley.
Once again, Lin Dan faced Lee Chong Wei in a nail-biting spectacle of badminton skill. In the end, Lin Dan came out victorious, winning gold and beating his rival for the second time in the same event.
For this feat, Lin Dan became the first badminton singles player to successfully defend his Olympic title.
Super Dan’s Super Grand Slam
By 2011, Lin Dan had already tasted victories in the BWF World Championships, the BWF World Cup, Thomas Cup, and All England Open. As well, he began his career coming off wins in the Asian Games and the Asian Championships. Despite these accolades, one eluded him — the BWF World Superseries title.
Lin Dan played in the 2011 Li Ning BWF World Superseries. In the finals, he played against Chen Long. Lin Dan decisively defeated his compatriot, dominating his opponent in two straight games.
Lin Dan took home the BWF World Superseries gold medal, the only title he needed for the claim of Grand Slam Winner. His victory brought him more than a gold medal — he became the sport’s first-ever Super Grand Slam winner.
Rivalry with Lee Chong Wei
Lin Dan and Lee Chong Wei have crossed paths numerous times in final matches. Since their finals match at the 2005 Malaysian Open, the two players faced each other 39 more times. Lin Dan bested his Malaysian counterpart 28 times out of their 40 meetings in finals and semi-finals matches.
Individually, both players have major titles and accolades under their belt. Lin Dan and Lee Ching Wei have also claimed the BWF number one spot numerous times in their careers —at times from each other.
Their achievements, as well as exciting final matches, have created what many call the greatest rivalry in the history of badminton. Despite how heated their matches get, Lee Chong Wei and Lin Dan considered each other peers off-court.
In fact, Lee Chong Wei attributed his drive to train and perform better to his rivalry with Lin Dan. Towards the end of his career in 2019, he went public saying that Lin Dan was the greatest badminton player in the world.
When Lin Dan got married to fellow badminton medalist Xie Xinfang, Lee Chong Wei was invited to their wedding in 2012. The camaraderie between two of the badminton world’s greats was apparent on the court too. In the finals of the 2013 World Championships, Lee Chong Wei suffered from cramps. The injury prompted Lin Dan to approach an injured Lee Chong Wei, in a touching act of friendship.
The rivalry between the two came to an end in 2019 when Lee Chong Wei announced his retirement.
Marriage to Xie Xinfang and Affair
Lin Dan and Xie Xinfang were engaged in 2010. The pair got married on September 23, 2012. The wedding ceremony took place on the campus of the Beijing Institute of Technology.
Xie Xinfang gave birth to their son, Xiao Yu, on November 5, 2016. Unfortunately, controversy surrounded Xie and Lin’s marriage and Xie’s childbirth. On November 17, 2016, Lin Dan confessed to having an affair while Xie Xinfang was pregnant.
According to the Strait Times, Lin Dan admitted on Weibo to the affair, also apologizing for the effects it had on his new family.
Endorsements and Sponsorships
Lin Dan was one of the players sponsored by Yonex. In many of his matches, Lin Dan can be seen using the Yonex Voltric Force. The racket was released in a special Lin Dan edition.
Besides Yonex, Lin Dan has also been linked to other brands like Mont Blanc. In 2015, Lin Dan also released his signature line of men’s underwear.
All good things come to an end. A year after Lee Chong Wei’s retirement, Lin Dan announced his.
Lin Dan announced his retirement on Weibo on July 4, 2020. Following his announcement, the BWF officially removed him from the rankings.
Lin Dan seemingly reciprocated his rival’s gesture and attributed his greatness as a player to Lee Chong Wei.
“Once In a Generation”
Lin Dan’s accomplishments and titles are unparalleled in the badminton world, cementing his legacy as one of the world’s best. His storied rivalry with Lee Chong Wei captivated badminton enthusiasts and drew new eyes to the sport.
As Lin Dan bid farewell to the sport in 2020, questions arise as to who can duplicate his accomplishments. One thing is for sure:
Lin Dan is a star that comes out once in a generation. So if you’ve seen any of his games before his retirement, consider it a privilege!
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