Superstar Lin Dan talks to Badzine

Badminton’s biggest superstar Lin Dan took some time out from his victory lap in China following his success at the Wang Lao Ji BWF World Championships in Guangzhou to talk […]

Badminton’s biggest superstar took some time out from his victory lap in China following his success at the Wang Lao Ji BWF World Championships in Guangzhou to talk to Badzine about this current phase of his career.

Photos: Badmintonphoto.  Translation and additional photos by Renee Yang, Badzine Correspondent

China’s Lin Dan is without a doubt badminton’s brightest star.  The last two tournaments he completed saw him win a second Olympic gold medal and a record fifth World Championship singles title but he has also stood atop the podium at every other major badminton tournament there is, including the Badminton Asia Championships, the Superseries Finals, and the Asian Games.  Only a quartet of annual Superseries tournaments have eluded him since he won his first Korea Open, 11 years ago, at the age of 18.

Lin Dan took close to a year-long hiatus following his second Olympic success, during which time he married his long-time girlfriend Xie Xingfang, herself a two-time World Champion and an Olympic silver medallist.  Lin Dan participated in only one tournament, the Badminton Asia Championships, in addition to playing in Peter Gade’s final match, an exhibition on the stage of the Copenhagen Masters last December.

Lin Dan benefited from a wild card selection by the Badminton World Federation (BWF) to qualify for the Wang Lao Ji BWF World Championships, despite a ranking that had ultimately plummeted to 286th in the world by the time he was to play his quarter-final against world #2 compatriot Chen Long.  Lin justified the wild card selection by winning his fifth World title when rival Lee Chong Wei retired from the final at match point.  Prior to the match, BWF President and fellow Olympic men’s singles gold medallist Poul-Erik Hoyer said that we “haven’t seen better badminton players in history” than Lin Dan and Lee Chong Wei.

Lin Dan spoke to Badzine last week via emailed video while on a victory tour of China following his Guangzhou win.

Badzine: You are perhaps the last player to win a major men’s singles title before age 20 (Korea Open 2002 and Denmark Open 2003).  Bao Chunlai and Taufik Hidayat also have this kind of result but no one has since.  Were you, or your generation, just special or has the game changed in some way?

Lin Dan: I’m sorry, I don’t think this is a good question.  In my point of view, the value of a player doesn’t depend on how early he could win the title but on how long he could stay on court.  A player could win titles at the age of 15, but this kind of thing doesn’t mean anything.  If he could win titles at the age of 15 and keep playing on the professional court until the age of 35, I believe this will be the most valuable thing to him and to the sport.

Badzine: Many people point to your rivalry with Lee Chong Wei as being key to badminton’s increasing popularity.  Do you agree, and what other factors are driving it?

Lin Dan: It’s a great honour that Lee Chong Wei and I are considered by many concerned people to be an important factor to the sport.  This is because both Lee and I make tremendous efforts to prove our value and capability.  It’s also a great honour for me to have such an opponent with whom I could develop as a player.  Apart from Lee Chong Wei and me, I hope other categories of the sport could also create superstars who can attract young people to love the sport.

Badzine: With its system of fines, the BWF is essentially forcing players to play Superseries Premier and Superseries Finals events.  Is that the right way to do it or should it be like tennis where the prestige and prize money come first and then players want to go?  If the latter, what would attract the players or the associations?

Lin Dan: In my view, speaking honestly as a player, whenever a circumstance is forced on people, it will then be quite difficult to convince them of its merit.  Of course, I could understand, under current circumstances, the BWF wants more and more excellent players to play, in order to maintain the quality of these events, but maybe we could find a more effective or convincing way to achieve the goal.  For example, we might need to learn from other sports such as tennis and see how they managed to attract players and spectators effectively.

Under current circumstances, for badminton associations of every country, the purpose in attending events still remains at the basic and original stage – to win the medals.  I can understand this kind of situation, as everybody looks forward to the best outcome when they play the game.  But I think, in the next few years, both the BWF and the national associations will have to look at this problem at a higher level, where the most important thing is not countries competing for medals, but developing the sport to a higher class.

Otherwise, as some star players inside this sport gradually retire in the next few years, the influence and attention of the sport may drop over a period of time.  This is not the result which any of us want to happen so I sincerely hope, with help and support from all of us, we could find a better way to develop the sport to a higher level.

Badzine: What are your views on the instant review technology?

Lin Dan: Everything has its advantages and disadvantages.  But with the sport being developed to a certain level, high technology must be involved.  With the assistance of high technology, the sport could become more attractive.

Badzine: New non-BWF competitions – such as the China Badminton Super League, Indian Badminton League, Djarum Superliga, the Axiata Cup, etc. – rely heavily on star power.  How attractive are opportunities like these to a player in your position?

Lin Dan: It’s no doubt that great players are always indispensable to any sport, whether it’s badminton, or football and basketball.  No matter how interesting the game is, it always needs players to perform and deliver it.  Of course, the stage you play on in the Olympics is different compared to playing in the CBSL, but if the match is wonderful and the spectators can enjoy it, it’s already the best reward to us and to the sport.

Badzine: Is there any way you would like to interact more with the world outside China?  What you would like to be involved in?

Lin Dan: I’ve played in many countries.  Normally the local crowds like and support local players.  With my performances over so many years, I hope the fans from other countries also could appreciate my efforts.  That would be a very happy thing for me.

Badzine: Are there any other top sports people outside China that you look up to?

Lin Dan: I also watch other sports.  I like Messi and Beckham of football, James and Kobe of basketball.  For me, I not only watch their wonderful performance on the court or field, but I am also concerned about their importance and their tremendous contribution to their sports.

Badzine: How do you choose the commercials you go for?

Lin Dan: First, I don’t choose a commercial only based on money issues.  I must consider whether the product is suitable for me.  Second, I don’t readily agree to do commercials for food or pharmaceuticals since people regard me as their hero and idol, and I must be responsible for them.  That’s also the reason why I am so cautious in choosing products I endorse.

Badzine: Are you involved in any charity work on a long-term basis, and if not, what would be the cause you would like to defend?

Lin Dan: Whenever I have time, I have always tried to attend some charity activities.  Since I have gained so many things from our society, it’s a duty for me to give back to society.  But as an active player, I have very limited time, and in China, I have not been able to find a long-term charity project which is suitable for me.  I prefer to take part in the charity work with the identity as an athlete, bringing hope to people, delivering the message about the attitude our athletes performed with when we were facing difficulties on court.

Badzine: How are things different for you as a player, now that you are married?  Is it particularly difficult in the Chinese national team system to train with the team and also have a family life?

Lin Dan: Regarding this issue, I’m trying to adjust my practicing schedule and keep communicating with my coach in the national team right now.  Of course, my career is very important, because badminton is my true love.  But on the other hand, nothing is more important than my family.  I hope I can find a balance between the two.

Badzine: Is there any other accomplishment that you could wish for as a player?  Or is it just down to goals such as winning a second Asian Games gold, a third Olympic gold, or a sixth World Championship title?

Lin Dan: With my effort, and also with the effort from other people, to promote the sports, to develop the sport to a higher level, to make it more popular: this is my future target, not just gold medals.

About Ying Yang