WUHAN - Superstar Lin Dan led hosts China to an emphatic victory over South Korea in the Thomas Cup final on Sunday, sending a stark message he and his teammates are in peak form for the London Olympics.
Widely regarded as the best player of all time and a sporting hero in China, Lin threw his t-shirt into the Wuhan crowd after his side were far too good in seeing off the Koreans 3-0 — repeating the feat of the women’s team Saturday. “Lots went through my mind last night. I don’t know how many more Thomas Cups I’ll play. This one is at home and I wanted to put on a good show,” said 28-year-old Lin, known as “Super Dan” to his adoring millions of fans.
“Every player gets nervous. When you’re young it’s because you’re excited, it’s the first time you wear your national colours. When you’re older, it’s because there’s a lot of expectation... I didn’t sleep so well last night.”
But the reigning Olympic champion showed no signs of tiredness or nerves in his match against Lee Hyun-Il, the 21-14, 21-17 victory easier than the scoreline suggested. “There were no tactical changes between the games,” said Lee, “I just took every point as it came.
But in the end I made too many mistakes. That’s why I lost.” South Korea’s coach Sung Han-Kook had said the first singles was the key match — whoever wins takes the momentum in the tie.
“He is a superior player,” said Lee, “his accuracy and speed are remarkable. And it is his consistency throughout a match that keeps him apart from the rest.” China’s head coach Li Yongbo described Lin as “exceptional”, gushing: “You get a player like him maybe once in a blue moon.”
Looking to his final preparations for London, Lin said he wanted “everything to be like in 2008 before Beijing” — also a year China won the Thomas Cup. “I am going to use every day as an opportunity to prepare and improve,” said Lin, whose path to another gold may be a little easier since world number one and arch rival Lee Chong Wei injured his ankle earlier in the week.
South Korea’s doubles pairing put up a fight to rescue the final, but when they failed to convert a handful of game points the Chinese duo punished them, with Cai Yun ripping off his t-shirt as they won 21-16, 25-23. It was left to the towering Chen Long to wrap up the match for his country in the second singles, and swanning onto court the world number three looked to be savouring the moment ahead of time.
But he did the business, out-classing the in-form Shon Wan-Ho, especially with some exquisite backhand slices, to win 21-9, 21-13 and earn the special praise of his coach for his calm and confidence.
The men’s victory caps a stunning week for China’s Olympic preparations, after the women’s team won the Uber Cup, also against South Korea, and also without dropping a single match on the way. Coach Li refused to bask in the glory of a faultless tournament, pointing to the simmering issue of a generational transition facing the men’s team.
Retirement looms for Lin as well as doubles world number one duo Cai Yun and Fu Haifeng. All performed brilliantly at the Thomas Cup, so much so that the younger players were never under pressure. Li also brushed off the significance of China now matching Indonesia’s record of five consecutive titles. “In two years, if we win another Thomas Cup, then that will be success. Chasing a record and surpassing one are two different things.”