TARGET: World No 1 ready to defend crown
THE former bad boy of Chinese badminton, World No 1 Lin Dan, came of age with his home Games triumph in Beijing and has set his sights on becoming the first player to successfully defend an Olympic badminton title in London.
With four world titles, an Asian Games gold and a raft of Super Series championships, the spiky-haired 29-year-old has little left to achieve in the playing arena.
Enriched by endorsements as one half of a celebrity power couple with wife Xie Xingfang, a former badminton world champion herself, Lin Dan also has precious little need to play on.
However, the People's Liberation Army officer is a patriot, and thus determined to salute the crowd at Wembley Arena four years after draping himself in the red flag of China in front of feverish spectators at Beijing.
"I don't feel any difference (this time round)," Lin Dan said in the leadup to the Games. "I still want to win the gold medal this time as much as in 2008."
Lin Dan will be seeded second when he takes on unheralded Irishman Scott Evans in his opening match tomorrow, but few have any illusions as to who is the real top dog here.
Lin Dan marched into the same stadium last year, survived a match point against long-time rival Lee Chong Wei and stormed to victory, ripping off his shirt in ecstasy, becoming the only player to win a fourth world crown.
Chong Wei is top seed in London but has been hampered by an ankle injury sustained during the Thomas Cup in May and rates himself 90 percent fit. Lin Dan's biggest threats are likely to be his countrymen, world number three Chen Long and fourth-ranked Chen Jin.
"If you win three world championships and an Olympics in four years, you have to go down as, in my view, the best singles player of all time, there's no doubt about it," Danish World No 5 Peter Gade told Reuters.
Lin Dan is unfazed by competing on the biggest stage of all without the tidal wave of support he rode to the title in Beijing.
"Playing at home provides more pressure than playing on foreign soil," said Lin Dan , who trounced Chong Wei in 2008 the final in Beijing.
"At home, there's a lot of people coming to support you and hoping you win the title. The voices in your head keep saying 'you have to win' and that increases the pressure.
"Playing overseas can make it easier emotionally because you only have to focus on preparing and executing your plan properly which should result in a good outcome."
Born in the steamy southeastern province of Fujian, Lin started playing badminton at the age of five and was selected for the national team at 18.
He won his first major international title in the 2003 Denmark Open and quickly rose to be World No 1 in 2004 but for a time appeared unable to control his fiery temper enough to triumph in the world's biggest events.
He crashed out of the 2004 Olympics in the opening round and became involved in a string of spats with Athens champion Taufik Hidayat of Indonesia, who beat him for the 2005 world title and Asian Games gold the following year.
Apart from a blip at the 2010 world championships, when Lin Dan made a shock quarter-final exit, the man dubbed "Super Dan" has ruled the roost in the men's game since, to the delight of his 16 million followers on his Chinese microblog.
He has kept a low profile in London, dodging media requests and shielded by his coaches, but cut a breezy figure as he posed for pictures with his rival and friend Chong Wei outside his hotel in Wembley Plaza.
His first-round opponent Evans, ranked 76th in the world, has tried to put on a brave face for Ireland.
"Even if I break my leg on court, I'll enjoy it," Evans said.
"If I want to win a medal then I'll have to beat Lin Dan whether now or in the final... I'm tired of people being negative about it. You have to be positive." Reuters