PUTRAJAYA: Malaysia’s most successful badminton player, Lee Chong Wei, announced his retirement today.
At a press conference here, the former world no. 1 who was diagnosed with nose cancer in July last year said he made the decision after his most recent check-up in Taiwan.
“I told the Badminton Association of Malaysia (BAM) that I want to spend time with my family,” he added.
The three-time Olympic silver medallist said he had discussed the issue with both his wife and his doctor.
“She told me to rest. I took rest and discussed it with BAM and (Youth and Sports Minister) Syed Saddiq. I said after Raya, I will retire.”
Chong Wei, who stopped several times to wipe away tears, said it had been a very difficult decision for him.
“(But) my health is more important.”
He thanked those who had supported him for the past 19 years, including the youth and sports ministry, BAM, the National Sports Council and his coaches.
He also thanked his wife, his family and all Malaysians.
Syed Saddiq, who was also present at the press conference, said Chong Wei was a hero for all Malaysians, regardless of race or religion.
“I grew up watching him flying the Malaysian flag proudly on TV. I’m sure it was the same for many Malaysians.
“To find another figure like him will be difficult. Someone like this comes once in a lifetime. Malaysians like myself are privileged to have him.”
Calling Chong Wei a “true fighter”, he said the badminton ace had continued training even after discovering that he would have to undergo treatment.
“While the decision to retire has been made, his fighting spirit will not die but will continue to burn in the hearts of Malaysians and athletes.”
Syed Saddiq added that Chong Wei would be nominated as the next chef de mission for the Tokyo Olympics in 2020.
BAM president Norza Zakaria meanwhile said Chong Wei was a “badminton legend”.
While voicing regret over his retirement, he said he was glad that he could “call it quits on his own terms”.
“He united Malaysians like no one else could. Regardless of race, religion and politics, we all prayed that the boy from Penang would bring home glory, and he almost never failed us.
“Even when success eluded him, he fought to the end. I have been privileged to know him as a player and a gentleman,” he said, adding that Chong Wei had always remained humble and hungry for success, not only for himself but for the nation as well.
In a question-and-answer session after the press conference, Chong Wei said his doctor had advised him to rest and to cut back on pressure.
“He didn’t say retire, but I knew what he meant. I felt this is the time to step down.”
He added that his dream is for Malaysia to bring home the gold in the Olympics.
When asked if he would consider coaching, he said he would concentrate on his recovery before discussing it with BAM.
“If Malaysia needs my help, 100% I will help,” he added.
Asked if he had any regrets, he reiterated that the most important thing is his health.
When asked if he would train his son, he laughed and said he would let him decide for himself.
When asked to describe his career in one word, he said, “Grateful.”
“I owe my wife,” he added. “We haven’t gone on a honeymoon since we got married. I just went for tournament after tournament and more training. So I want to take my wife for a holiday.
“My son has been asking why I haven’t been playing. My wife sent me a picture saying ‘daddy is best’. I cried.”
Comparing his career to a roller coaster ride, he recalled a time when he lost in the first round of the All England Open.
“Dato Norza said it’s okay. I tried my best, but even top players lose in the first round.
“I felt down. When I came back, there were a lot of press in the airport and I didn’t know what to say because I lost.
“(But) Dato Norza told me to follow behind him, he said it’s okay, there are other tournaments. Even during the doping ban, Dato Norza supported me.”
Asked about his longtime rival Lin Dan, Chong Wei said he hoped the Chinese player would qualify for the coming Olympics.
“It’s tough because China has other good players, but I wish him all the best.”
He added that all his rivals on-court were in fact good friends.
“We are enemies only on the court. We have the same sponsors, and sometimes we meet outside of tournaments.”
Adding that he would take on no new challenges for now, he said he would nonetheless continue to give his best for the country.
“Maybe I can go to the courts to help spar with younger players,” he said.
He voiced regret that he never brought home an Olympic gold medal for the country but said he hoped Malaysia could qualify for the Tokyo games next year.
Asked what he would miss the most after retiring, he said: “The media.”
“I will miss all the reporters and media support. I will miss you all.
“I will also miss the Badminton Academy and all my friends. Even the cleaners are my friends,” he added.