Badminton’s greatest rivalry

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Sporting rivalries between players or teams who eclipse their peers are always of massive interest to fans; one of the biggest of these head-to-head contests is badminton's Lee-Lin rivalry.

Malaysia's Lee Chong Wei has met China's Lin Dan 31 times since their respective first titles in 2002. In those meeting's Lin has been the victor 22 times; including in the badminton finals at the 2008 Beijing Olympics and again in 2012 in London.

Like so many of the greatest sports rivalries the two men have vastly different personalities; Lee is serious and quiet, while Lin with his tattoos and raucous celebrations is the 'bad boy of badminton'.  Lin's specialty is going on the attack and using his devastating wrist snap smash. He is considered by many to be the greatest badminton player of all time. Chong Wei on the other hand relies on speed and intelligent defensive play.

As has been pointed out by many pundits the most crucial difference might be the amount of pressure each athlete feels to perform well for their country and fans. Malaysia has never won a gold medal at the Olympics, and badminton and Chong Wei have been their best hopes of that happening. Lin is one of dozens of gold medallists for China, across several sporting disciplines.

There are also similarities between the two (or perhaps a commentary on life on the road for professional badminton players at the top level) as both are married to former top ranked badminton players. Dan is married to Xie Xingfang, while Chong Wei is married to Wong Mew Choo.

The rivalry between the two men has been compared to the Roger Federer/Rafael Nadal and the Lionel Messi/Cristiano Ronaldo rivalries. The comparisons hold true in that the two are a head and shoulders above anyone else playing the sport during their careers. Their superiority is shown by the fact that each has spent almost 300 weeks ranked number one in the world. 

The two met on the court for the first time at the Thomas Cup qualifiers at the Kuala Lumpur Badminton (KLBA) Hall in Cheras in 2004. And although their rivalry has been intense; it has been marked by mutual respect. 

After news broke that Chong Wei had tested positive for a banned substance earlier this year, Lin wished his long time rival all the best. 

China's official Xinhua news agency quoted him saying: "I hope that this great player comes back to the court as soon as possible. Not only does Malaysia need him, but the whole badminton world needs him."

Lin Dan turned 31 in October, while Chong Wei turned 32 just a few months later. Although there has been speculation that there may be one final Olympic meeting in Rio in 2016; the great rivalry has surely entered the final chapter – a chapter that may be cut short by Chong Wei's doping scandal.

With Dan semi-retired and Chong Wei facing a career ending suspension fans have begun to look around at their competitors; and can't help conclude there will be a vacuum at the top when the two retire for the final time.