Lin Dan

Lin Dan
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Lin Dan, badminton legend, retires: ‘It is very difficult to say goodbye’

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Lin Dan, arguably the greatest badminton player in history, announced retirement Saturday, citing “pain and injuries” in bowing out a year before the postponed Tokyo Olympics.

“I have been with the national team from 2000 to 2020, and it is very difficult to say goodbye,” 36-year-old Lin wrote to his four million Weibo fans, according to Badminton World Federation (BWF) translation. “Pain and injuries no longer allow me to fight with my teammates. I have gratitude, a heavy heart and unwillingness.”

Lin, nicknamed “Super Dan,” won Olympic singles titles in 2008 and 2012, plus five individual world titles. It’s the greatest resume for any badminton player from China, which owns twice as many medals as any other nation in the sport that debuted at the 1992 Barcelona Games.

He competed at the last four Olympics, won the sport’s Super Grand Slam (nine major titles) and had his own wax figure at Madame Tussauds in Shanghai.

Lin’s outbursts on and off the court led to some calling him the John McEnroe of badminton, but he is revered. In 2015, he was the second athlete on Forbes China‘s most popular celebrities list behind tennis player Li Na.

Lin’s pursuit of a fifth Olympics in Tokyo was looking out of reach. He dropped to No. 26 in the Olympic qualifying rankings, trailing four countrymen, including No. 5 Chen Long (Rio Olympic champion) and No. 11 Shi Yuqi (2018 World silver medalist). A nation can qualify a maximum of two individual players per gender for the Games.

“From where came his mastery? In short, his prowess was essentially due to the completeness of his game – in skill, physical ability and mental strength,” the BWF wrote in a press release. “Such was his craft that even well into his 30s, normally considered an advanced age for men’s singles, he could outplay younger and fitter opponents.”

NBC Olympic Research contributed to this report.

MORE: Who is China’s greatest Olympian?

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Who is China’s greatest Olympian?

Yang Wei
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China largely didn’t compete at the Olympics before 1980, but it didn’t take long to become a medal power. The Chinese finished second to the U.S. in total medals at the last three Summer Games and had the most golds in Beijing in 2008. China has been consistent at recent Winter Games, earning an average of 10 medals over the last two decades and building enough of a reputation to earn hosting rights in 2022. Here are five of the nation’s greatest Olympians …

Fu Mingxia
Diving
Four Olympic gold medals

A world champion at age 12. An Olympic champion at age 13. Fu was the dominant female diver of the 1990s, sweeping the springboard and platform at the 1996 Atlanta Games and winning one more of each between 1992 and 2000. China has become the dominant diving nation, though still with half the total Olympic medals of the U.S. in the sport. The Chinese boast other legends, such as Guo Jingjing, Chen Ruolin and Xiong Ni, but none combined the versatility and length of dominance quite like Fu. She retired for the first time at age 18, believing she was too old for the sport, and again after her last Olympics at 22.

Lin Dan
Badminton
Two Olympic gold medals

China owns twice as many medals as any other nation in badminton, which debuted at the 1992 Barcelona Games. Ten badminton players share the record of two gold medals. Nine of them are Chinese. Two of them earned two individual golds — Lin and Zhang Ning. The tiebreaker goes to Lin for his five individual world titles to Zhang’s one. “Super Dan,” who competed at the last four Olympics, won the sport’s Super Grand Slam, capturing its nine major titles. Lin’s fame: In 2015, he was the second athlete on Forbes China‘s most popular celebrities list behind tennis player Li Na. He had his own wax figure at Madame Tussauds in Shanghai. Lin’s outbursts on and off the court led to some calling him the John McEnroe of badminton.

Wang Meng
Short Track Speed Skating
Four Olympic gold medals

Also known for volatility. Wang is the lone Winter Olympian on this list and owns the national records for Winter Games medals (six) and golds (four). Wang competed in all four short track events at both the 2006 and 2010 Olympics, won half of them and earned medals in five of the six individual events. She would have been favored for more gold in 2014 but fractured an ankle three weeks before the Winter Games and never competed at another major championships. Wang was known for her unbeatable sprint speed and off-ice incidents. She was once suspended 13 months after reportedly, drunkenly punching a team manager who had chided her for breaking curfew.

Deng Yaping
Table Tennis
Four Olympic gold medals

Nowhere is China’s all-time Olympic dominance more evident than table tennis. Chinese won 28 of 32 gold medals and nearly three times as many total medals as any other nation. Deng, 4 feet, 11 inches, 115 pounds and dubbed “The Ping Pong Queen,” swept singles and doubles gold medals in 1992 and 1996. She was ranked No. 1 in the world from 1990-97 after initially being left off the national team for being so short.

Yang Wei
Gymnastics
Three Olympic gold medals

China has plenty of gymnastics greats, including Li Ning and Li Xiaoshuang, but Yang is the only one to earn Olympic all-around and team golds. He was the nation’s best gymnast at three Olympics — 2000, 2004 and 2008 — and, at his last Olympics in Beijing, dominated the all-around to win by 2.6 points. It remains a modern-era record for an Olympic men’s or women’s all-around margin of victory.

NBC Olympic Research contributed to this report.

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