The Beatles, Rolling Stones, Spice Girls, Beyonce … and Lin Dan. Wembley Arena has rocked out to them all.
Lin, the closest thing badminton has to a rock star, turned the famed arena into his own mosh pit when the Chinese standout won one of the greatest finals in world championships history last year.
The thriller ended when he fought off two match points to deny Malaysian archrival Lee Chong Wei. Lin didn’t let the drama end there: He ripped off his shirt with a guttural yell, embraced his coaches, pumped the air with two left hooks and saluted the still-applauding crowd.
Nearly a year later, he’s headlining the arena again for the Olympics in hope of becoming the first man to retain the singles title.
He moved into the last 16 on Monday but he’s still downplaying his chances for gold, especially for his 16 million followers on social media. But does the most decorated badminton player ever think about winning the London Games?
”Sometimes before I sleep at night, I would think about winning my second Olympic gold medal,” he said. ”However, I realized it was more important to remain focused on achieving my goal and not get carried away thinking too far ahead.”
There was a time when impatience was his weakness. But training and maturity turned him into a winner of the Olympics, worlds, All England Open, Asian Games, and Thomas Cup – each marked by a star tattooed on his left arm. When Lin won the Super Series Final last December, he became the first to complete what has been called the Super Grand Slam – the winner of every major title available to an Asian, including the Sudirman Cup, World Cup and Asian championships. All by the age of 28.
His reputation’s not entirely super, however. Lin has blemished his legacy through forfeits and retirements to help teammates: Seven times alone since late 2010. He’s been accused of helping Chen Jin qualify for the last two Olympics by throwing the 2008 All England final and this year’s Asian championships semifinal.
In fact, he’s a bit of a bad boy: At the 2008 Korean Open final, Lin exchanged harsh words with South Korea’s Chinese coach Li Mao after a disputed line call, threatening him and raising his racket. Then after losing, Lin scuffled with winner Lee Hyun-il. Three months later, Lin reportedly punched coach Ji Xinpeng in a pre-Olympic training camp.
Lin showed his class in the Beijing Games when he withstood the crush of expectations from home fans by crushing Chong Wei in the gold-medal final. Away from home, he expects to enjoy these London Games more.
”We have huge pressure when we play at home,” he said. ”All the people hope we can win every match and become champions. ‘Champions, champions’ is what we hear from them, or thinking about all the time. So the pressure gets bigger and bigger for us. In contrast, when we play abroad, play in a venue far from home, we feel relaxed. All we need to do is focus on the match itself.”
Lin has had focus almost since he was born in southeast Fujian Province. The left-hander, who defied his parents’ wish that he play piano, started badminton at the age of five. He was accepted into full-time badminton training at nine, and was picked for the national team at 18.
From the start he exhibited a quick-strike boldness, tactical nous and extraordinary footwork. Within three years of his senior international debut, he was ranked No. 1 in the world, in time for the Athens Olympics. He bombed in the first round but wasn’t down for long. He became so successful, and one of China’s highest-earning sportsmen, he had to register his name as a trademark in 2007 to stop it from being used by manufacturers without permission.
Since the Beijing Games, he’s married Xie Xingfang, the retired two-time world champion and Beijing Olympic silver medalist, and concentrated more on titles than being No. 1. Hailed as the greatest badminton player, at least of this generation, he has stayed out of the spotlight in London. He looked relaxed though when he bumped into his friend Chong Wei outside their Wembley hotel and posed for pictures and compared expensive watches.
Their rematch in the final is the dream of fans. And one more chance to rock Wembley Arena.