Lee Chong Wei’s long reign over badminton‘s world rankings has made him one of Asia’s biggest sports stars, despite his frustrating failure to win major titles.
The 32-year-old Malaysian’s quiet and self-effacing manner have helped his adoring Malaysian fans overlook repeated failures in world and Olympic finals.
But whether the fiercely private family man will challenge for top honours in the future has been thrown into question by his shock positive test for the anti-inflammatory dexamethasone.
Any ban for Lee, increasingly troubled by injuries in recent years, could put paid to his attempt to extend his career to the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics.
It would be a sorry end for Lee, whose struggles to overcome Chinese nemesis Lin Dan have provided a compelling narrative for one of Asia’s most closely followed sports.
In stark contrast to the tattooed, fiery Lin, a superstar in China, Lee is known as a sensitive, reserved individual who trains obsessively and mostly shuns the limelight.
Few are admitted to Lee’s inner circle, and even Malaysian sports journalists say it can be hard to get access to the father of a young son.
“The higher he went, the more he built a wall around him,” said one Malaysian reporter who has covered Lee for more than a decade.
Lee first reached world number one in late 2008 and remarkably, he has stayed at or near the summit ever since, totting up a steady string of tournament victories.
“He trains very hard, no doubt,” said Sieh Kok Chi of the Olympic Council of Malaysia. “He is disciplined.”
Lee’s trouble has come in the big finals, as witnessed by his defeats to Lin in two Olympic, an Asian Games and two world title matches.
In August in Copenhagen, Lee reached another world final against China’s Chen Long, but again the opportunity slipped through his fingers.
From a humble background, Lee, the youngest of four children, originally favoured basketball but his taxi driver father took him to a badminton court at the age of 11, launching his career.
The lanky, loose-limbed player eventually developed a dominant game marked by trademark long rallies and his lightning-quick retrievals of his opponent’s smashes.
In 2012 he married Wong Mew Choo, a former Malaysian national singles player, in a lavish ceremony attended by dignitaries including the country’s king, queen and prime minister.
Memorable clashes with Lin include the 2012 Olympic gold medal final, where Lee was a game up before he unravelled, and last year’s world final, when he dramatically retired with cramps.
This year’s world championships was to prove painful in more ways than one for Lee, who lost the final to Chen and also, as he later discovered, returned the drugs test result that could end his career. – Agence France-Presse