Rio 2016: China’s Olympic king of badminton

Sam Price profiles China’s two-time Olympic champion who is aiming for a record third men’s singles title in Rio

Every sport needs a superstar, and badminton certainly has one in Lin Dan. Hailed as the ‘King of Badminton’ by many observers, the Chinese ace served up one of the most memorable moments of London 2012 when running around Wembley Arena in euphoric celebration after an epic deciding point in the final against long-term rival Lee Chong Wei of Malaysia.

That gold medal meant Lin became the first male badminton player to retain his Olympic title, and the left-handed genius is now chasing an historic hat-trick in Rio.

It wasn’t plain sailing in the build-up, however. Lin, who has numerous commercial commitments and even runs his own underwear brand, suffered disappointing early exits in the India Open, Malaysia Open and Indonesia Open this year, leading some to question whether the 32-year-old is the force of old. In compatriot Chen Long and the resurgent Lee, he also has two formidable rivals for Olympic gold, both of whom have overtaken him in the world rankings.

But Lin is known as the man for the big occasion. In Beijing in 2008, he thrived in front of vociferous home support to demolish Lee in the gold medal match, and flashes of brilliance this year have demonstrated that it would be foolish to write off the five-time world champion. Tournament victories in the China Masters and the Yonex All England Championships – his sixth title in that prestigious event ­– show that the man with the facial hair, tattoos and bad-boy reputation is still capable of beating anyone when he’s in the zone.

Famed for his exceptional touch, flawless footwork and ferocious smash, Lin is regarded by many as the greatest player to lift a racquet, and is the only man in history to have won the ‘Super Grand Slam’ of badminton’s nine most important titles. Appropriately, Danish opponent Peter Gade gave him the nickname ‘Super Dan’ after finding a 20-year-old Lin too good in the 2004 All England final.

Despite his mixed preparations, Lin has already gained an advantage by getting used to the Olympic court at the Riocentro venue during the test event towards the end of last year. “I love badminton and representing China is an honour for me,” he said after winning the tournament.

It is clear that the fire still burns brightly in this charismatic competitor and, with motivation high and his form returning, it will take a special performance to stop Lin in his quest for a third Olympic title.

The Olympic men’s singles badminton competition starts on Thursday, August 11