(March 11, 2011 - Source: Tom Dulat/Getty Images Europe)
28 July 2012
LONDON: Injury-hit top seed Lee Chong Wei believes he has given himself a chance of winning his race against time -- and claiming an improbable men's badminton Olympic gold medal.
Torn ankle ligaments caused Lee, 29, to be ushered away in a wheelchair during the Thomas Cup in May, casting serious doubt over the then world number one's Olympic campaign.
However stem cell treatment, plus 13 hours' rehab each day, and a flinty attitude have bolstered him physically and mentally, enabling him to confound those who claimed he wouldn't make it.
These trials have given him new perspectives. "It has been a long and lonely road for me since I suffered that injury," said the Malaysian who is the most brilliantly fleet-footed player of them all in full flow.
"To be honest, it dawned on me during that time who were my real friends, who actually cared for me, Chong Wei, the ordinary person.
"So many walked away, but never once did I ever think of calling it quits. All this negativity spurred me on to prove a point."
Lee wants the gold medal, both to improve on the silver medal he won in Beijing four years ago, and to finally get the better of his nemesis Lin Dan in a major event.
Coping with the sensational Lin, China's Olympic and world champion, is perhaps the hardest task in the history of badminton, and Lee also has to deal with the memory of the last time they played at Wembley arena last August.
Lee held two match points against Lin in a monumental world final. Afterwards, he said he was considering extending his career for a year to the next world titles in 2013, having spoken of retiring at the Olympics.
"That was a stunning defeat as I was almost there, but all of a sudden the title vanished right before my eyes," Lee remembers. "That defeat still lingers in my mind, and it has strengthened my resolve to win a gold medal at the Olympics.
"Wembley arena was unkind to me 12 months ago, so let's hope Lady Luck will smile at me this time around."
Lin, who also beat Lee in the Beijing 2008 final, was generous towards his long-term adversary.
"We are long-time competitors, but our biggest enemy is not each other, but injury," he said. "As his competitor, I wish him to come back as quickly as possible."
However, Lee avoided admitting that Lin, his barrier for more than six years, is the greatest player ever, and instead suggested retired Chinese world champions Yang Yang or Zhao Jian-hua, or Denmark's Peter Gade.
However, the 35-year-old Gade has had a moderate run-up to the Olympics and fell from the world's top four, putting him in the same quarter as Chen Long, the former world junior champion from China.
It also let former world champion Chen Jin into the top four, allowing China a maximum three qualifiers. The others are Lin, seeded two, whom Chen is seeded and drawn to meet in the semi-finals, and Chen Long, at three.
China also has the maximum in the women's singles, with a trio of Wangs -- Wang Yihan, Wang Xin and Wang Shixian -- occupying the top three world ranking positions.
If an unexpected threat to China's women is to emerge, it might come from Saina Nehwal, the Commonwealth champion from India, or Tine Baun, the former world number one from Denmark.
However, the world's most powerful badminton nation is seeded top in all three doubles events as well, and in four of the five events altogether.
No nation has yet won all five badminton gold medals. However, this time it looks very possible, China having captured all five titles at the last two world championships.
Olympics Badminton's Lee nears D-Day in injury race - Channel NewsAsia