Lin Dan, five-time world champion and two-time Olympic gold medallist, announced his retirement on Saturday to bring down the curtains on the most decorated career in badminton history.
No man in the history of the sport had won more than two singles titles at the World Championships before 2006 and then, Lin Dan went on to win five out of the next six editions. No male shuttler had managed to win back-to-back Olympic singles gold medals before 2012, when Lin Dan achieved it in London.
For Lin Dan, breaking records came with ease during a glittering two-decade career for China.
To this day, he is the only men’s singles shuttler to win three or more gold medals at the World Championships: he has won a whopping five titles (2006, 2007, 2009, 2011, 2013). The only other singles player, in fact, to have won three titles across genders is Carolina Marin (2014, 2015, 2018).
And for lovers of mathematical symmetry, the 36-year-old finished with 666 career wins and 66 titles.
Lin Dan's major titles
|Event||No. of gold medals|
|Olympic Games||2 (2008, 2012)|
|World Championships||5 (2006, 2007, 2009, 2011, 2013)|
|All England Open||6 (2004, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012, 2016)|
|Asian Games (Individual)||2 (2010, 2014)|
|Thomas Cup||6 (2004, 2006, 2008, 2010, 2012, 2018)|
He is, in fact, the only player in the history of the sport to complete a ‘Super Grand Slam’ by winning all nine major titles in world badminton: Olympics, World Championships, World Cup, Thomas Cup, Sudirman Cup, Super Series Masters Finals, All England Open, Asian Games and Asian Championships. Lin achieved the feat in 2011.
The Chinese star claimed his first international title in 2002 at the Korea Open. Soon after, he climbed to the top of the world rankings the following year with victory in the Denmark, Hong Kong and China Open titles. All these happened when he was still a teenager. He was the world No 1 for the first time in February 2004 and lived up to that billing with his first All England Open title the following month.
On the day of Lin Dan’s retirement, the most poignant tribute came from Lee Chong Wei. The end of Lin’s glorious career comes just over a year after the retirement of his great rival and friend.
The duo reigned over badminton for more than a decade and have only relinquished that hold in recent years as their powers waned. But at their peak, the two men dominated badminton at major events.
And Lin Dan’s greatness is why Lee Chong Wei will go down in sport (not just badminton) as perhaps the unluckiest legend, in that his career coincided with that of a big-match player like the Chinese star. It is no coincidence that Chong Wei’s quest for a major gold medal was thwarted often by Lin Dan. Two Olympic gold medals and two world championship titles for Lin came at the expense of Chong Wei.
In fact, with Lin’s retirement, the golden era of men’s singles in badminton has arguably come to an end. Often referred to as the Four Kings along with Chong Wei, Taufik Hidayat and Peter Gade, Lin is the last of the quartet to retire.
The Four Kings and their singles records
|PLAYED||WON||LOST||BALANCE||Olympic gold medals||World C'ship gold medals|
|Lee Chong Wei||848||713||135||+578||0||0|
According to a BWF feature on the Chinese legend, “What made Lin’s achievements all the more remarkable was that he accomplished all that in the face of top-quality opposition – most prominently, greats like Peter Gade, Taufik Hidayat and Lee Chong Wei. He was good enough, even late in his career, to frequently hold off younger stars like Viktor Axelsen and Chen Long in memorable matches such as the Japan Open 2015 and the Asian Games 2014 finals respectively.”
Lin Dan's BWF H2H stats versus select rivals
|Player||Matches played||H2H (Lin Dan wins—opponent)|
|Lee Chong Wei||40||28-12|
|Son Wan Ho||16||13-3|
|Lee Hyun Il||18||15-3|
In 2011, he became the first badminton player to seal the sport’s ‘Super Grand Slam’ by winning all nine of its major titles, according to the BBC. In 2017, he ended Lee Chong Wei’s reign at his home tournament — Malaysia Open — to pocket another title that had eluded him over the years.
“When I arrived here I had two aims – I wanted as many ranking points as possible, and secondly, I had to break the jinx,” Lin had said. “I was often asked why I hadn’t won an Open tournament in South East Asia. A friendly reminder, I did win one of my world titles in Kuala Lumpur.”
There can (and should) be a debate on who is the greatest badminton player of all time. Such a debate, in any sport, goes above and beyond numbers. But for the sheer weight of trophies in his cabinet, it will take a brave man to make a case against Lin Dan as the greatest shuttler to have played the game.
Here’s a video with some of his winning moments from a glorious career: