Lin Dan’s un­fin­ished busi­ness

New Straits Times - - Sport -

Lin Dan didn’t re­tire af­ter the Rio de Janeiro Olympics when most ob­servers thought he would.

The world’s great­est bad­minton player could have fin­ished years ago with­out re­grets.

By the end of 2011, Lin owned ev­ery ma­jor ti­tle ex­cept for the Euro­pean Cham­pi­onship, and only be­cause he’s Chi­nese. The fol­low­ing year he re­peated as Olympic cham­pion in Lon­don, re­leased his au­to­bi­og­ra­phy “To the End of the World,” and was still look­ing ahead.

The man dubbed “Su­per Dan” for more than a decade is wealthy (the sec­ond-high­est earn­ing ath­lete in China in 2015 ac­cord­ing to Forbes) and fa­mous (his wax fig­ure is in Madame Tus­sauds). So what keeps him play­ing? “I still have the pas­sion,” he says.

Which is why Lin Dan is in Birm­ing­ham to de­fend the All Eng­land Open ti­tle from to­day, even though he’s won bad­minton’s

I still have the pas­sion. LIN DAN

old­est cham­pi­onship six times al­ready. His his­tory of glo­ri­ous come­backs means no­body is will­ing to rule him out of ul­ti­mately match­ing the great Rudy Hartono’s eight ti­tles in the 1960s-70s. But if Lin Dan wins again this week, it will be de­spite the most tur­bu­lent time in his ca­reer.

Af­ter the Olympics, Lin Dan re­turned home as his wife Xie Xing­fang, a for­mer two-time world cham­pion, was ex­pect­ing their first child. The boy, Xiao Yu, was born on Nov 5.

The joy im­ploded less than two weeks later, when a celebrity gossip finder re­leased on Chi­nese so­cial me­dia site Weibo pho­tos and gifs of Lin Dan hug­ging a woman in a ho­tel room. She wasn’t his wife. More scan­dalous was the tim­ing. The pho­tos were taken in Oc­to­ber, when Xing­fang was preg­nant.

The hash­tag LinDancheat­ing has 2.9 bil­lion hits so far.

Within hours, Lin Dan apol­o­gised on so­cial me­dia, say­ing “I won’t make any ex­cuses for my­self, but my ac­tions have hurt my fam­ily.”

That has drawn more than 619,000 likes. But most of the 928,000 user com­ments have been along the lines of this post: “Af­ter a life­time of winning, a crush­ing de­feat. Was it re­ally worth it?”

The next day, Xing­fang posted on her Weibo ac­count a photo pre­sum­ably of her’s and Lin Dan’s hands hold­ing a baby’s hand, and sug­gest­ing she for­gave him. “We, as a fam­ily will go through this to­gether,” Xing­fang wrote.

The episode was a huge hit to Lin Dan’s rep­u­ta­tion, but his rapid apology ap­pears to have ap­peased his main spon­sors. Also, time and good results tend to soften con­tro­versy, and Lin Dan re­turned to ac­tion less than three weeks later in the Chi­nese Su­per League, with suc­cess.

He won all eight of his matches, in­clud­ing against the other three Chi­nese ranked in the world top 10: Olympic cham­pion Chen Long, Tian Houwei, and Shi Yuqi. Lin Dan was met not with jeers but re­sound­ing cheers dur­ing the league.

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