Olympics: Lee at peace with defeat

An emotional Chen Long needs to be helped to his feet by his elated coach Xia Xuanze after beating Lee Chong Wei of Malaysia to win the Olympic badminton men's singles gold. It is the 27-year-old's first Olympic singles title and he succeeds his lege
An emotional Chen Long needs to be helped to his feet by his elated coach Xia Xuanze after beating Lee Chong Wei of Malaysia to win the Olympic badminton men's singles gold. It is the 27-year-old's first Olympic singles title and he succeeds his legendary compatriot Lin Dan. Chen's success was only China's second badminton gold at the Rio Games.ST PHOTO: KEVIN LIM

Malaysian admits he didn't play well enough to win, hints at retirement by looking forward

Lee Chong Wei knows this defeat. He has tasted its bitterness and felt the sorrow on this very same stage twice before.

His latest loss, in the final match of his illustrious Olympic career, a result that meant he will go down in Olympic history as second-best for the third straight time, should sting the most.

But it was with a sense of peace and finality that the Malaysian world No. 1 accepted his 21-18, 21-18 defeat by China's Chen Long yesterday. No longer was he crouched over, no longer were there tears like in London, four years ago.

All the tears, instead, belonged to Chen. The Chinese fell prone to the ground after Lee sent his last shot wide to seal victory for the world No. 2, who had to be helped to his feet by coach Xia Xuanze.

Said Lee, who confirmed he will not make a fifth run at the Olympics: "Of course I have regrets, but no matter what, I still have to accept the result.

"I didn't play well enough today and Chen Long was better than me, so I have to give him credit for that."

While the pair are evenly matched, Lee holding a slight head-to-head advantage (13-12) before yesterday, the Malaysian was the favourite going into the final.

After all, Lee had already overcome his greatest hurdle by beating China's Lin Dan in the semi-final. He had also won his last four matches against Chen.

But an aggressive Chen, backed by the sizeable number of Chinese in the crowd, kept Lee on the defensive for much of the match, at one point stringing together six consecutive points in the second game.

Down 17-20, Lee saved one match point before handing victory to the 27-year-old Chen.

His loss - he fell at the final hurdle at the 2008 and 2012 Games to Lin - meant Malaysia's quest for an elusive first Olympic gold will continue.

Lee, however, declined to accept that the responsibility of winning gold for Malaysia was a burden that weighed him down. This was his last shot at Olympic gold, having gone through his career falling short of a title on the world stage.

Said the 33-year-old: "Everyone faces pressure. It cannot be an excuse once you've lost. I must be happy for what I've achieved. To be able to represent Malaysia on the podium is something I must be proud of."

Indeed, the Malaysian was applauded by champion Chen on the podium as they accepted their medals.

"The combined value of those three silvers from three Olympics is way beyond that of one gold," said Chen. "His fans, his country should be very proud of him. Of course there is disappointment in defeat, but what he has achieved for himself, his country and his sport is something that everyone can see for themselves."

The win, which follows back-to-back world titles in 2014 and 2015, should seal Chen's place as the undisputed successor to Lin.

It was clear how much victory meant to Chen, who also bore the burden of salvaging some pride for the underperforming Chinese badminton team. They went from a clean sweep in 2012 to just two golds in Rio.

He said: "The team were under a lot of pressure and it's not something others would be able to understand.

"At the end of the day, it doesn't really matter whether I was superior in technique or in strategy. What's more important is whether I could face each point, whether I've won it or lost it, peacefully.

"It's not been a smooth or easy road to this win," added Chen, who also gave credit to his girlfriend Wang Shixian. The world No. 9 shuttler missed out on a spot in China's Olympic squad but has been staying in Rio cooking meals for Chen.

As he wrote the final chapter of his Olympic career yesterday, Lee was already looking forward. He is likely to play on the international circuit for the rest of the year, but will make a decision on his career after that.

He will bear a different burden even after he hangs up his racket - that of teaching and inspiring young ones in Malaysia to follow in his footsteps.

He said: "I hope that I can work with schools and states, encourage young players and pique their interest in the sport. Malaysia is still short of a gold."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on August 21, 2016, with the headline 'Lee at peace with defeat'. Print Edition | Subscribe