Lin Dan deserves admiration – not ridicule – for daring to dream of Tokyo 2020 Olympics
- The greatest player of all time, ‘Super Dan’ is a shadow of his former self
- Fans pleading with him to retire, but 35-year-old eyes third Olympic gold
Anyone who was questioning badminton star Lin Dan’s determination to continue his career can rest assured – he’s going nowhere.
After his defeat by world number one Kento Momota in the opening round of the Hong Kong Open last week, Lin, now 35, made it clear he would not stop at this stage with qualification for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics beginning next summer.
If he eventually reaches Tokyo, he will be making his fifth appearance in the Games since his debut in Athens in 2004.
Lin will also be 37 years old by the time the next Olympics rolls around – can he still be competitive against the younger generation of players?
From the 2008 Beijing Games to the Rio Games in 2016, Lin remained one of the best in the world.
In between these three Olympics, he became the first men’s player to successfully win back-to-back singles titles and made it to the semi-finals in Rio before losing to rival Lee Chong-Wei of Malaysia for his third title match in a row, and then the much younger Viktor Axelsen of Denmark in the bronze medal match.
At the World Championships, Lin also had an impressive five titles under his belt, bagging his first in Madrid in 2006 to the fifth in front of his home supporters in Guangzhou in 2013.
But since the Rio Olympics, Lin has been struggling to return to his best, especially this year. In 2018, he has surprisingly lost nine times in the opening round of the world tour, including some poor performances against little known opponents such as Sakai Kazumasa of Japan and Ihsan Maulana Mustofa of Indonesia.
Some of his defeats came in minor tournaments, too, where Lin would never competed in his heyday.
His only title of the year came at the New Zealand Open, a Super 300 level tournament which is a fourth-tier competition under the new structure of the world tour.
Nowadays people may even not remember Lin’s nickname and where it comes from – when he dominated world badminton, he was referred as “Super Dan” as the mainland player was always in a class of his own.
But if you have already conquered the world of badminton, and realised the dream you started with 20 years ago, what’s the point of continuing? Do you still have the same desire?
Many netizens in the mainland have criticised Lin, saying he is too old and cannot win important events any more; that he should not stay in the national team as it would block the way of many upcoming players who need more opportunities.
Some of his fans have even tried to persuade Lin to quit as he is only tarnishing his reputation after so many impressive results over the years.
Lin has accepted all these criticisms.
In an interview with Chinese media in Fujian after the Hong Kong Open, he said it is normal to see all these negative comments as he has not played well in 2018 – a year he referred to as the worst in his career.
“If you fail to perform, you are under criticism but you have to take this positively, trying to find out the reasons and face the problem,” Lin said.
People are free to talk and make comments, but they are not Lin Dan.
Lin is the best person to talk about his own career. If he knows he has no chance to win any more, he will certainly call it a day. This is common sense.
In fact he was doing very well in his match in Hong Kong against Momota, the hottest player on the circuit. Had he taken his chances in the opening set which he narrowly lost by two points, he might have won the match as he took the second set 21-12 before losing the rubber set 21-15.
At the All England Open earlier this year, a top-tier Super 1000 tournament, Lin was still able to reach the final before losing to compatriot Shi Yuqi, also after three games.
Physical fitness becomes pivotal for players who are Lin’s age. And Lin has already said he would focus on this during his winter training camp to prepare for his hectic schedule next year.
“I will work hard … it’s not easy to come through after all these years as you don’t see too many players who are still competing at my age,” he said after his loss to Momota.
“I haven’t suffered any major injury over these years and why not I continue to stay in badminton.”
It’s sometimes sad when you see athletes fail to regain their best and lose their confidence because of their age, but certainly Lin is not one of them, at least not right now.
He is still a fighter, an athlete who dares to make the Olympic Games his dream.