Badminton legend Lin Dan retires, HK Sevens canceled

Society & Culture

In this week's China Sports Column: One of China's most decorated world champions hangs up his boots, Wu Lei is still mulling a transfer to the English Premier League, and COVID-19 has put a premature end to this year's World Rugby Sevens Series.

Lin Dan retires from badminton

Chinese badminton legend Lín Dān 林丹 has retired from the sport.

The Fujian native stands out as one of China’s greatest Olympians and best professional badminton players of the modern era.

“Super-Dan” won Olympic golds at Beijing 2008 and London 2012, as well as five World Championships and six All England titles. In addition, the 36-year-old has claimed at least one title at each of the world’s majors.

Known for his power and winning mentality, Lin started his professional career in 2001 after a successful career in the juniors, winning the 2000 Badminton Asia Junior Championships before a second-place finish in the Junior World Championships later that year.

2003 became a breakout year for the Chinese star. After a series of early exits in major tournaments, Lin regularly began winning competitions, including his first titles in Denmark, Hong Kong, and home soil in China.

In 2004, Lin Dan became the world’s top-ranked player for the first time. A team China victory at the Thomas Cup, a biannual national team tournament like tennis’s Davis Cup, was China’s first title in the tournament in 14 years.

Strong, consistent performances throughout the next decade saw the Chinese star dominate the world of badminton.

The sheer scale and volume of his victories are eye-watering. Lin appeared in a record 91 major and open finals, winning 66. He finishes with 666 career victories, 28 of which came against his great rival, Malaysia’s Lee Chong Wei, who he met 40 times over his career.

With the retirement of Lin, another top Chinese sports icon has been lost. With Sun Yang banned, a ping-pong squad less dominant than in the past, and not many Chinese athletes dominating a significant sport to Lin’s extent, there is a gap in the market for a new domestic star to be born next year in Tokyo.

For a serious look back at Lin’s career, this ESPN piece by Jonathan Selvaraj is superb.


Wu Lei urged to leave Spain

Wu Lei

China’s top soccer star Wǔ Lěi 武磊 has been urged by former Manchester United player and compatriot Dǒng Fāngzhuō 董芳卓 to leave Spain and move to the English Premier League.

Wu currently plays for Espanyol in La Liga, Spain’s top soccer division. But his Barcelona-based team is presently rooted to the bottom of the league table, 11 points from safety in the relegation zone.

“If Espanyol is relegated to the second-tier league, will Wu Lei stay at the club? I think no matter if Espanyol is relegated or not, a better choice for him is to go to the Premier League,” Dong said on social media.

“I think Espanyol is not a good fit for Wu now. Considering the team’s deficiencies in midfield, the lack of supply to Wu up front and the squad’s overall instability, I don’t think Wu should stay at the club. He should be in the English Premier League. He is now much more mature in terms of body strength and mentality.”

In recent days, there have been rumors that Chinese-owned Wolverhampton Wanderers is interested in the Chinese national team forward.

The midlands club has long wanted a Chinese player to allow the club to crack the Chinese commercial market following the 2016 Fosun takeover, and Wu had been linked with the Wolves during his Shanghai SIPG days.

Since the Wolves’ promotion into the Premier League, the club has established itself as a solid top-half club. Owner Jeff Shi has made it known that he wants a Chinese player to pull on the orange first-team jersey. (The Wolves currently have Dongda He on the reserve team, who was signed in 2018 from English lower-league club Notts County, where he had been a player since the age of 12.)

But the Wolves aren’t along in their pursuit of Wu. Watford is also a prime contender. While the Wolves may currently be the better team, its frontline may be too strong for Wu to command a starting place.

As to whether Wu even wants to move to England, that’s another story.

“If Espanyol needs me, and I’m capable of making contributions to the team, I will choose to stay,” he recently told People’s Daily.

Of course, that could just be a media sound bite. The 28-year-old is at the peak of his physical powers, and a chance to play in the world’s most popular league may not come along again.

The transfer window will open for clubs across Europe at the end of this month, with the English transfer window opening at the end of the delayed season on July 26.


HK Sevens canceled

HK Sevens

The Hong Kong Sevens rugby tournament has been canceled due to COVID-19.

World Rugby, the governing body of global rugby union and sevens, made the decision to cancel the remainder of this year’s World Rugby Sevens Series after just six of 10 rounds.

The World Sevens Series is a worldwide season of national sevens rugby teams played across five continents. Hong Kong Sevens is widely considered the most prestigious tournament in the series.

Initially postponed back when the virus hit China, the organizers delayed the tournament to October this year, but as the virus went global, World Rugby decided that keeping the series going with the extensive air travel required was not feasible.

HK Sevens has been the crown jewel in the city’s sporting calendar for 44 years — even playing the tournament during the 2003 SARS outbreak.

With the series at a premature end, New Zealand was awarded the title after just four rounds played.

The legs in Singapore, London, and France were also canceled.

The China Sports Column runs every week on SupChina.