How many times has an athlete retired as G.O.A.T (Greatest of all time) in his sport without becoming a world champion, winning Olympic gold or by standing on the podium with a silver medal? No one really remembers who came second in the world of sports. But Lee Chong Wei has flipped this narrative not once, not twice but on a number of occasions as badminton’s beloved nearly man. And still, when the 36-year-old broke down while announcing his retirement from the sport, the world of badminton bemoaned.
Lee has been a part of an incredible journey interlaced with the thrill of winning, the agony of defeat, all the ups and downs, on-court wizardry and oh, all the debilitating narrow defeats at major tournaments. Take a look at his career trajectory, for example:
The legend of Lee always came back stronger in the face of crushing disappointment. He was ready to pounce on his rivals.
To see a great fighter retire who has given so much to the sport is not easy to digest. His spirit wants him to fight, but his body can’t. For once, the stoic Lee knew he had to accept defeat.
Lee has decided to put his health first after being diagnosed with nose cancer. Many thought it was the end, but the fighter mustered enough courage to overcome this hurdle too.
Lee was cleared of cancer after receiving multiple treatments in Taiwan in November and by the start of January, he was back on the court in. A return to the All-England and Malaysia Opens was on the cards but his plans came to nothing.
However, he posted an update on Facebook in April to reiterate his desire to compete in Tokyo Olympics 2020 and resume his long-standing rivalry with China’s Lin Dan.
But after failing to get a green light from his doctors several times, the shuttler came to accept that his days were numbered.
Lee knew he had had enough and the elusive Olympic gold was far from his reach. “Failing to win Olympic gold and world title (for the country and himself) is definitely one of the biggest regrets in my career,” a teary-eyed Lee told reporters.
In all, he had bagged 69 titles throughout his career. That includes a staggering 46 titles in the now-defunct Superseries – the Badminton World Federation’s (BWF) top-flight circuit.
Lee was ranked World No 1 for 199 consecutive weeks between 2008 and 2012, a marvellous feat in badminton men’s singles event.
Lee won the Malaysian Open 12 times in his career (2004, 2005, 2006, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2016 and 2018), besides becoming the first non-Indonesian player to win the Indonesian Superseries Premier six times (2007, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2013, 2016).
He also won the Japan Open five times (2007, 2010, 2012, 2013 and 2014) and participated in eight editions of the Thomas Cup after making his debut in 2004.
Lee also won the prestigious All England title four times in his career – 2010, 2011, 2014 and 2017, and was runners-up in three World Championships (2011, 2013 and 2015).
But it’s not the end for the Malaysian great. He has pledged to continue being involved in the sport as long as he’s still needed. In fact, the Youth and Sports Ministry and Olympic Council of Malaysia had made a special arrangement for him to be the chef-de-mission for the national contingent to next year’s Tokyo Olympics.
Lee is a gift that keeps on giving.
Three Olympic Silver Medals
Three World Championships Silver Medals
Fourty seven World Superseries/World Tour Titles
Twelve Malaysian Open Titles
Three Commonwealth Games Gold Medals (men’s singles)
Two Asian Championships Gold Medals (men’s singles)
One Silver, Two Bronze: Asian Games 2010 (men’s singles)
Two hundred Consecutive Weeks as No.1
Total Titles: 69
Commonwealth Games: Two Gold (mixed team)
Thomas Cup: Silver (2014); Four Bronze (2006, 2008, 2010, 2016)
Sudirman Cup: Bronze (2009)
Asian Games: Two Bronze (2006, 2014)