A changed man
Marriage has given Lin Dan a fresh outlook on life, and more focus on his fashion label
Dressed in simple T-shirt, jeans and a light down jacket, Lin Dan slips into the courtyard suite at Aman at the Summer Palace in Beijing, with little fanfare. If not for his management and assistant, it might almost have been possible to miss the world's greatest badminton player. Almost, but not quite.
Even without his badminton racquet in hand, there's something striking about the 1.78m wiry young man with well-defined cheekbones and thick eyebrows. He has obviously been working on his tan and the light shadow of a moustache adds an air of maturity to his demeanour.
But he's a much quieter, reflective persona than his bad-boy reputation on the courts would have us believe. Perhaps, it's also because the Fujian native, who turns 30 this October, has just embarked on his new role as husband to fellow badminton player Xie Xingfang.
"Marriage has changed things. I have my own family now. In the past, my family made a lot of sacrifices. We never got to spend much time together because I was always training. I think now I need to spend as much time as I can with them. This is the life I should have. It should not all be about badminton," he says.
"Before I turned 30, through a lot of hard work and support, I won many badminton titles. But after turning 30, Lin Dan should change that mindset and start in a new direction, and do things that are more meaningful."
Lin first picked up a badminton racquet when he was five years old and there has been no looking back since. His parents, who had been keener for him to take up the piano, were persuaded by a family friend to let him pursue his love of the game. He joined the sports troop of the People's Liberation Army - he holds the honorary rank of lieutenant colonel - at the age of 13 and has been part of China's national badminton team since 2001.
After two consecutive Olympic titles and winning every single grand slam title, there is little else he needs to prove on the courts, and it seems natural for Lin to turn his mind and talents to other matters.
"In the past, it would always be in my mind 'how many rivals do I still have'? but now I won't think of such things. Not because I have no competition, but now there are possibly more important things that I can do. For instance, promote sports, because now I am able to help others, especially kids. I don't want to go back to the past when all I think of is how many championships I want to win," Lin adds.
"Badminton is popular in China, but it's still not as big a sport as soccer or tennis. So through my achievements or other players', we can hopefully change that. Each person can play a role to change things slowly." One of the ways that he hopes to reach out to youths today is through his own fashion label, LD (Lin's initials), that he started in 2008 in collaboration with Li Ning's sportswear company. "We've been collaborating really well in the past four years. Naturally, I hope to see the brand develop even further. I hope that it will appeal to more of the younger set; I'd like to have more sports elements and sports influence in the design."
With the run-up to the London Olympics, and subsequently his wedding to Xie last October, Lin regrets he was not able to spend as much time developing the label as he had wanted to. However, with his training schedule freeing up, he can now choose to play in only the major tournaments and is hoping to see the brand develop not just in sales but also creatively.
"We're planning a major change in spring/summer 2013, so I'm very excited about what's coming up. I'm hoping to work closer with the designers to come up with something groundbreaking."
It comes as a pleasant surprise to find the two-time Olympic gold medallist undemanding and acquiescent as we show him the outfits he needs to wear for the day's shoot. There's a subtly raised eyebrow at one of the more flamboyant outfits, but no outright refusal to change into it.
"I'm OK with trying new things, although it might extend to photo shoots or events. Otherwise, I'd normally dress more casually. This [red] outfit is probably not something I would dare to pick on my own," says Lin, who lists soccer stars David Beckham and Hidetoshi Nakata as his role models for their success in establishing themselves as more than just sportsmen.
Despite his own wardrobe of tracksuits, fashion is something that he has always been interested in. The celebrity badminton star acknowledges that he spends time poring over lifestyle magazines to check out the trends, and enjoying his time off the courts, scouring shopping malls for the latest fashion.
Of late, he has also become a recognisable face at Dolce & Gabbana runway shows in Milan. With his status as the highest earning sports star in China, Lin can afford to splurge a little on high fashion, luxury watches and fast cars, but always with an eye on what would suit his image.
There has been speculation about Lin following in the footsteps of former teammate and good friend Bao Chunlai into the showbiz world, especially since he joined Shanghai Dragon Television as an ambassador late last year. But before he can even consider a career change, he still has a mission in mind: to repay his fans for the years of loyal support they have given him.
"They've been there since the beginning. We grew up together. They only get to watch the matches, but I am hoping to go on the road to meet them, even if it is just to sign autographs. I hope I can repay them this way."
After several months off for his wedding and honeymoon, Lin is reporting back for duty at training camp to add more medals to his collection. "Three Olympics Games have taught me this: even though you may be down, you can still pick yourself up again. When you are at the peak, you need to keep reminding yourself, you cannot relax. It's not easy. But that's what I have been battling with in the past five or six years.
It's also determination."
However, at this stage in his life, he will also be making time to do the things that now take priority, like spending time with his new bride and catching up more often with close friends. For Lin, life's starting anew at 30.
PHOTOGRAPHER: AKIF HAKAN CELEBI @ MFAA
PHOTOGRAPHER’S ASSISTANT: AMANDA ANDERSON
FASHION STYLIST: LINDA WANG
FASHION STYLIST’S ASSISTANT: BIANJIAOJIAO
LOCATION: AMAN AT THE SUMMER PALACE, BEIJING