Olympic badminton is saying goodbye to four modern greats at the London Games, but two of them — Lin Dan and Lee Chong Wei — look set to sign off with a classic final.
With Lin and Lee, as well as 2004 champion Taufik Hidayat and former world number one Peter Gade, eyeing retirement, it’s all-change at the top of one of Asia’s most popular sports.
And on Sunday, China’s “Super Dan” and Lee, his fiercest rival, can end the era in style.
Lin, bearded and tattooed at 28, is often labelled the greatest of all time — yet it is Lee who was number one for 199 consecutive weeks, until injury forced him to take two months off in May.
The Malaysian has been a model of consistency for almost four years, but Lin has barred his way to the two trophies he most wants, the world and the Olympic titles.
When they met in the world final a year ago, also in Wembley Arena, it was billed as an Olympic test.
But the encounter developed such color and drama that it became more than a warm-up, and entered the pantheon as one of the greatest matches of all time.
Lee has been aching for atonement ever since producing a performance of such beauty — and still having Lin prevent him from converting his two match points.
Lin now no longer says that he wants to beat Lee — though he surely does — but that he “hopes that both players can achieve their level and that my opponent is also able to achieve his dreams”.
Even allowing for a mixture of politeness and philosophizing, it seems that these do represent Lin’s personal feelings about Lee.
After all, Lin has won all the most important titles — not only the Olympics and the world championships, but the Super Series Masters finals, the All England Open, the Asian Games, and the Asia Championships too.
Their rematch gains extra poignancy because both will soon be gone. It is certainly their last Olympics, and might have been their last tournament, except that both now seek suitable epilogues.
Lin has been persuaded to play a little longer because he is so essential to the marketing of the sport, and Lee would like one more try for the world title that has somehow eluded him.
Lin is favorite, because Lee’s preparation has been hampered by injury. But a great match and an enduring memory is still possible.
Denmark’s Gade, 35, lost in the quarter-finals, in what will be the final act in more than a decade-and-a-half among badminton’s elite.
Indonesia’s Taufik, 30, is also soon to end a colorful and brilliant career highlighted by his 2004 Olympic win, when he wept freely, wearing laurel leaves, on the victory podium.