KUALA LUMPUR, June 13 — National badminton ace, Datuk Lee Chong Wei’s decision to hang up his racket after almost 20 years in the game is truly a huge loss for Malaysian sports.
Tears flowed as Chong Wei announced the news himself in a special press conference held at the Youth and Sports Ministry in Putrajaya today, which was also attended by Youth and Sports Minister Syed Saddiq Abdul Rahman and his deputy, Steven Sim Chee Keong as well as Badminton Association of Malaysia (BAM) president Datuk Seri Mohamad Norza Zakaria.
This son of Bukit Mertajam went through a series of ups and downs throughout his 19-year career as a national player, with his best achievement being the three consecutive Olympic silver medals won in Beijing (2008), London (2012) and Rio de Janeiro (2016).
He also won silver medals in three straight World Championships — London in 2011, Guangzhou, China in 2013 and Jakarta in 2015, besides the bronze in the 2005 edition in Anaheim, United States.
Being crowned 12-time Malaysian Open champion is a record that has never been challenged by any local player to date, although there were sceptics among local fans who labelled him ‘jaguh kampung’ (home ground champion) for only excelling on home soil.
For the record, Chong Wei won the Malaysian Open in 2004, 2005, 2006, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2016 and 2018.
Looking back on his career, the 37-year-old clinched his first title at the Malaysian Satellite Badminton Championships in 2003, and then taking his first Malaysian Open title in 2004, before repeating that feat in 2005 and adding the Denmark Open the same year.
Chong Wei’s most successful year was in 2010 after he swept nine Superseries titles, although his almost perfect career has been overshadowed somewhat by his failure to win the three prestigious international championships - the Asian Games, the Olympics and the World Championships.
His outstanding performances on court was duly recognised and rewarded in 2008 when he was conferred the title ‘Datuk’ by the Penang government and once again by the Federal Government in 2017, as well as the ‘Datuk Wira’ by the Melaka state government a year earlier.
His international honours were also recognised, including chosen as the Badminton World Federation’s (BWF) best player five times — in 2009, 2010, 2011, 2013 and 2016, besides being named National Sportsman of the Year in 2005, 2008, 2011 and 2012.
Chong Wei is best known as the King of the Superseries for his 47 titles in the circuit, in addition to his 705 career match wins.
He also carved out a remarkable milestone by spending a staggering 348 weeks as world No. 1 from 2008-2013.
But as the adage goes, life is not always a bed or roses and for Chong Wei, this rang true when he was diagnosed with nose cancer in September last year.
Following this setback, he took a break from the game to focus on his treatment in Taiwan, before finally coming to his decision to retire today.
One of the best shuttlers ever seen on the international stage, Chong Wei is now considered a national sporting legend, and with having left big shoes to fill, his outstanding achievements on court does not look to be easily emulated in the nearest future. — Bernama