LEE Chong Wei has at least 4.5 million reasons to win the men’s singles Olympic gold but he wants to do it for the 28mil that really matter – the people of Malaysia.
The rewards will be bountiful if Chong Wei delivers, but the shuttler well understands the yearning of the nation for an Olympic gold – a 56-year-old craving that he has a second chance to satiate.
Beijing 2008 promised just as much but Chong Wei’s dream was brutally ended by China’s Lin Dan, who again stands in his way at the Wembley Arena today (8pm).
Lin Dan not only denied the Malaysian Olympic gold but the world championship three years later and nothing would be sweeter for Chong Wei than beating his nemesis this time around.
But the odds are stacked against him. An ankle injury severely curtailed his final preparations and Lin Dan looked ominous in his 21-12, 21-10 demolition of South Korea’s Lee Hyun-il in the semi-finals.
But Chong Wei was also impressive in his thumping 21-13, 21-14 win over China’s Chen Long, who had been his master in recent encounters.
While the hefty RM4.5mil booty is incentive enough for any player, Chong Wei has always insisted that doing the nation proud is his priority.
It also helps that, like American swimmers Michael Phelps and Ryan Lochte, he will have his mother Khoo Kim Sui in his corner today as he sets out to make history.
Chong Wei readily admits that his mother’s presence had been a calming effect in his earlier matches.
Of course there are 28 million Malaysians praying for his success, but there really is nothing like mum’s loving encouragement as Phelps has shown in winning 20 Olympic medals with his mother by his side.
Chong Wei’s epic clash with his friend and foe, Lin Dan, will be their 31st meeting in one of badminton’s supreme rivalries dating back to 2004.
Lin Dan has the edge with 20 victories compared to just nine for Chong Wei. In Beijing, Chong Wei was well beaten 8-21, 12-21 but most heartbreaking was the defeat in the world championships last year where the Malaysian held a 20-18 lead in the rubber only to capitulate 22-20, 14-21, 21-23.
“Wembley owes me one for that painful experience. I was so close to becoming Malaysia’s first badminton world champion,” a wistful Chong Wei said yesterday.
“But I hope to lay that ghost to rest on Sunday. The Beijing final was played in Lin Dan’s backyard and he was really driven to do well.
“This will be a more even contest on neutral ground. The best man will win.”
Lin Dan, for his part, was diplomatic as ever, saying it did not matter who won so long as it was a high quality match.
“I’m really happy to meet my old opponent again,” said Lin Dan, who will be out to become the first shuttler to defend his title at the Olympics.
“The fact that we get to play each other again four years on proves that we haven’t been kicked out by time.
“I hope we can both live up to our potential in the final, and that we can fulfil our dreams.
“Of course I will try to win it but I don’t think either player has an edge. I want it to be a entertaining joust which will long be remembered by the fans.
“I don’t mind losing to a better player. There is no real pressure on me.”
But Chong Wei is not falling for that prattle as he knows that China expect their man to deliver the gold.
“Let’s face it. The final will be tough and Lin Dan will be a massive obstacle as usual,” he said.
“One thing that has given me confidence is that the matches here in London have been tough and different. And each time I have been able to win. That has primed me up for the final.”
The world No. 2 has really come a long way after an injury-hit build-up to the Olympics which sidelined him for two-and-a-half months.
Step by step he regained his fitness and form. It was a lonely battle and only he had the faith that he would be ready for London.
“Those were terrible days... worrying days. Even I had doubts whether I would make it. But I pushed myself and all that hard work has paid off,” said Chong Wei, who is competing in his final Olympics.
“The stint in Bath just before the Games was invaluable. I’m glad to be in the final and winning the gold would be the perfect ending to my Olympic dream.”
In terms of technique, both Lin Dan and Chong Wei are the complete package. What will separate them is mental strength and who has the greater desire to win.
Both can attack as well as defend. For Chong Wei the net play will be crucial and he was in his element using the drop and base-line shots to good effect against Chen Long. But he will certainly have his work cut out in the final against a true colossus of the modern game.
Chong Wei, however, has 28 million reasons not to disappoint again. Let’s hope that will be motivation enough at the Wembley Arena today.
And then, of course, there’s mum.
Showdown: Lee Chong Wei vs Lin Dan
Kien Keat-Boon Heong fail to join Chong Wei in the final