RIO DE JANEIRO: Badminton world number one Lee Chong Wei still has the “anger” to prove himself a good player and an Olympic champion after a doping scandal that stained his record and set back his career, according to his coach Hendrawan.
The 33-year-old Malaysian is bidding for an elusive gold medal in his Olympic swansong in Rio, having suffered heartbreaking defeats by Chinese great Lin Dan in the title-deciders at Beijing and London.
Lee will play Lin in the semi-finals on Friday, hoping desperately to topple his long-time nemesis and go on to end his nation’s 52-year wait for a first Olympic title.
Although revered in Malaysia, twice silver medallist Lee’s halo slipped in 2014 when he tested positive for dexamethasone, a widely administered anti-inflammatory used to treat asthma and altitude sickness, at the world championships.
He was provisionally suspended in November of that year and faced a career-ending ban but the Badminton World Federation controversially handed him a back-dated eight-month suspension that allowed him to return to competition a few days after the judgement.
“He’s had to move on from that. We’re already past it. That was a story but now we focus again,” Indonesian Hendrawan told Reuters in an interview.
“Only a year ago he was ranked 180th in the world. He got back to number one. That’s also amazing because Chong Wei still has anger to prove himself.
“He feels determined to prove to himself that he’s still a good player and especially for the Olympics and world championships.”
The wiry Malaysian has been ranked world number one for much of the last decade but has never won a major global title, frustrated repeatedly by 32-year-old Lin on the biggest stages.
The Chinese defeated him in the finals of the 2011 and 2013 world championships and in the gold medal deciders at the Asian Games in 2010 and 2014.
Lee has beaten Lin in their last two matches on the world tour but the Olympics is a different stage as the Chinese pointed out after surviving a quarter-final scare against India’s Kidambi Srikanth on Wednesday.
Lee said as world number one he was under pressure to win the title at Rio but Hendrawan felt the Malaysian was coping better with it.
“He cannot run from that problem,” said Hendrawan, a silver medallist at the 2000 Sydney Games.
“I’ve talked to Chong Wei and said you must try to accept this pressure, especially this Olympics.”
Most badminton players in their thirties struggle to keep up with the fitness required in the modern game but Lee and Lin have defied Father Time.
Lee hardly broke a sweat in a one-sided rout of Taiwan’s Chou Tien-chen in the quarter-finals on Wednesday, but his match against Lin is certain to be more taxing.
Hendrawan said Lin had altered his game a few years ago to try to conserve his energy but Lee had taken longer to shelve his all-court style for a more aggressive approach aimed at killing points quicker.
“I’ve tried to make changes, not change his game but make his game more complete,” said the 44-year-old.
“He has plenty of power and speed, but we’ve been trying to make him more complete in his defence, make him more efficient in his rallies.
“I’ve told Chong Wei: ‘If you can win using less energy and less power that’s better.’ In crucial points, it’s up to him, he can do what he wants, use more or less power. We can’t change who he is.”