The greatest athlete of our time?

 
Legends like Federer, Tendulkar, Schumacher, Woods, Messi, Phelps, Rossi, Graff are often mentioned in tandem with terms like “Greatest ever”, “of all time”, “history” and “unprecedented athletes”. But there is one name that the Asian World will never forget—one that has gone under the radar for even most Indian sports fans. Shocking really, because this man can quite simply be called the greatest athlete of his time—despite all those names in the same bracket. His arena, his battlefield for conquest, is Badminton, a sport only now catching on in Indian circles due to the sustained excellence of Saina Nehwal, Kashyap and now Sindhu. What will astound most is that the man we’re talking about is not the no. 1 ranked player in Singles. He is in fact a lowly 18 as we speak.

 

Lin Dan, the Chinese badminton player, also known as ‘Super Dan’, is 30 years old and has dominated his sport in an unparalleled manner. His low ranking is down to the unexplainable ranking system, and also due to the fact that Dan participates in fewer tournaments compared to his rivals. He goes for the big ones, and he rarely ever fails in them. Lin Dan is to Badminton what Federer would have been to Tennis if he had managed to win more Majors after the age of 30, instead of inevitably falling to the younger, faster players in the semis or finals. Dan has been a machine, and for proof, look no further than the miserable Lee Chong Wei—his longtime eternal rival, who has won pretty much every smaller tournament under the sun, but has been denied an Olympic Gold, an Asian Gold and a World Championship Gold thanks to the existence of Dan in the same era. If there was ever a synonym for ‘bridesmaid’, Malaysian Wei would be first name on the list. One would say he must feel like Federer at the French Open in the same era as Nadal, but at least Federer has a French Open title, and many other Majors to go with it. Wei, the current World no. 1, has only managed two Commonwealth Gold medals (thanks to China not being a Commonwealth nation).

Back to Dan though, the Chinese star has—hold your breath—won all the nine major titles in Badminton. He is the only player in the history of Badminton to do so. His name often invokes comparisons to former greats like Wang Wang and Zhao Jianhua, but none of them won an Olympic title, and have 3 World titles between them. Dan meanwhile won everything there is to win, and did this by the age of 28 in 2011.

As of now, his Major titles read: Olympic Games (the only player to retain it at London 2012 after Beijing 2008), 5 World Championships, 2 World Cups, 5 Thomas Cups (Team), 4 Sudirman Cups (Team), 1 Super Series Masters Finals, 5 All England Open titles, 4 Asian Games Golds (including this one in 2014) and 3 Asian Championship Golds. Not to mention the 5 China and Hong Kong Open titles each. He has been runner-up at the All England Championships twice—the only major title he has allowed Wei to win over him, apart from minor ones like Japan and Korea.

 

His Asian Games Final victory at Incheon over 25 year-old and World no. 2 Chen Long extends his streak to 7 over the youngster without losing, this after defeating (once again) poor Wei in the semi-finals, who has had to settle for his second bronze Singles medal at the Games. Most heartbreaking for the Malaysian must have been the 2012 London Olympics final—a marathon match, one of the greatest of all time—where he went down 21-19 to Dan in the third game. 2012 was the same year in which Wei lost yet another All England Final to Dan, as well as the 2013 World Championship final to the same opponent. Dan has just one more career title than Wei (56 to his 55), but the has all the Majors in it, while Wei has had to make do with innumerable Malaysian Open and Indonesian Open titles, including 3 All England Open titles. 

Lin’s absence for 7 months in 2014 made sure that he dropped down the rankings to 104, before he returned to win the China Masters and another Asian title. He could not defend his 2014 World title though because of his low ranking, and lost in the Japan Open quarterfinals, before winning the Australian Open and now the Asian Games Gold.

 

He returns on a whim, much like current Tennis Women’s no. 1 Serena Williams, and finds within him the strength to defeat younger players, but definitely looks fitter and more agile than they are. Lately, even after losing the first game, he always come back to win the match—as if courting his opponent and reading his weaknesses for a game before pouncing for the kill. It all depends on his appetite for more, and he still has another year at the top at least, and will continue to haunt Wei till they retire together.

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