Three-time Olympic badminton silver medallist confesses that his rivalry with Lin Dan helped push him to greater heights.
"Lin Dan was constantly in my head." –Lee Chong Wei
The duo faced off 40 times through their careers with Lin having the advantage over the Malaysian with a head-to-head record of 28–12.
From their very first duel at the Thomas Cup Asia Preliminaries in 2004 to their final match at the 2018 All England Open quarter-finals, Lee and Lin have mesmerised the badminton world with their on-court skills that are in a league of their own. So much so, the period between 2006 and 2016, when both players were in their prime, has been likened as the Lin-Lee era.
Fans have long been split over who the better player is.
Lee, who announced his retirement from the sport in 2019 after undergoing treatment for nose cancer, recently revealed that he regards China's Lin Dan as the greatest badminton player ever.
The Malaysian, like many people all around the world, has been staying at home during the Coronavirus pandemic.
And like many of us, he has been joining live sessions on social media. During one such session, the question of who is the greatest was posed to him and the 37-year-old replied, "You have to say it's Lin Dan."
"He's a legend. His titles speak for themselves. We have to salute him," Lee explained.
The three-time world silver medallist also credited his rival to helping him reach the heights that he did in the sport.
Lee admitted to being almost "obsessed" with the notion that he had to be better than the five-time world champion, who beat him in the Beijing 2008 and London 2012 Olympic finals.
"Lin Dan was constantly in my head when I got back to training after every loss. I knew if I wanted to win important tournaments, I had to beat him. I couldn't relax," Chong Wei shared.
"Even when I was cramping up, I told my coach I wanted to continue training because Lin Dan was waiting for me. I was thinking about him all the time."
Eventually, the 69-time BWF tournament winner announced his retirement in June 2019 after consulting with his doctors. And that brought an end to one of the greatest rivalry sagas the world of badminton has ever known.
During the live session, Lee confirmed that he has made a full recovery and was currently in good health.
He now lives in Kuala Lumpur with his wife, Wong Mew Choo (who is a fellow badminton Olympian and a Commonwealth Games gold medallist), and their two kids Kingston and Terrance.
And even though he's left his competitive sport behind him, Lee can't help but mention his nemesis in his social posts, most recently during his eldest son's seventh birthday.
Lee was recounting the year Kingston was born and how that fired up his motivation as he came to the brink of clinching the world championship, only to be denied the title, once again, by Lin Dan.
"My mind and heart only wanted to win it for Kingston. But my body was pushed to its limit after a match I thought was one of the best games Lin Dan and I battled." - Lee Chong Wei
After years of dedicating his life to sport. Lee is now able to put his feet up and enjoy life a little.
The veteran, whose career spanned over 19 years, has since been named as the chef-de-mission for the Malaysian contingent to the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games.
He also seems to be enjoying his days being a dad, and has been sharing a badminton trick or two with his sons as they played in their living room during the lockdown.
For a player with such talent as Lee, it would be a shame for Malaysia if he were to completely disappear into retirement.
However, Malaysia's coaching director Wong Choong Hann believes that Lee could still play a role in the future of the country's badminton scene.
"He has the whole charisma and status of the great badminton players... and he can definitely contribute a lot." the three-time Olympian told us.
Wong, the first Malaysian to win a men's singles medal at the badminton world championships, also believes that Lee has the right qualities to make a good coach, calling him "the reference point in terms of understanding of badminton as a sport, as a game."
For Lee's fans, they would like nothing more than to see their hero help mould the next great badminton talent from Malaysia.
And Wong hinted that they might actually see their wish come true.
"I think in some unofficial ways, yes. He's always very much willing to share his experience with the players whenever he visits the training scene." Wong told Olympic Channel.
"And I think, yes, his heart still beats with the badminton tone."