When Lee Chong Wei was served a doping ban in November 2014, the news shocked sports fans around the world. Badminton suddenly became bereft of one of the greatest names in the game. Media reports likened Lee’s absence to jettisoning Sachin Tendulkar from cricket or Roger Federer from tennis. Mood in Malaysia was one of mourning since the nation blindly worshipped Datuk Lee Chong Wei. In 2009, Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Tun Abdul Razak named Lee as national hero to commemorate his Olympic silver medal at the 2008 Beijing Olympics. When the news about the doping scandal broke, Lee was the reigning world no.1 and a feared adversary on badminton courts. As per reports, Lee’s urine samples revealed the presence of dexamethasone. Though this is not a performance enhancing drug, it is widely used for injury rehabilitation. However, since the drug fell under the banned substances category, Lee was temporarily barred from competitions by the BWF Doping Panel. Lee was crestfallen but he fought his case and got his suspension reduced to 8 months in April 2015. The examining panel announced that Lee could begin playing from May 1, 2015. Since then, the hardworking Lee has bounced back to peak form and has beaten world no.1 Chen Long, world no.2 Jan O Jorgensen and his long-time rival world no.3 Lin Dan. Having lost to the Super Dan in the finals of 2008 and 2012 Olympic Games, Lee is keen to take his revenge at 2016 Rio Games.
Lee Chong Wei dominated men’s singles field for a number of years regardless of the Chinese supremacy in this shuttle sport. The Malaysian held the world no.1 rank for 199 weeks from August 21, 2008 to June 14, 2012. For a long time, there was no one, who could match Lee’s skill, court-craft and his stamina and he became the only Malaysian to win two Olympic silver medals. However, on both occasions, he fell to the same adversary, the Chinese superstar Lin Dan. The doping ban caused a break in Lee’s illustrious career and more than the loss of court practice, Lee suffered more on the emotional side. The blot was too much for the Malaysian, who commanded unbridled reverence, especially in his own country.
Fortunately for Lee Chong Wei, his 8-month long ban from badminton was back-dated and he became eligible to play from the beginning of May 2015. The BWF panel was convinced that the Malaysian did not have any deliberate intention to cheat and allowed him to resume his career. However, Lee was stripped of his 2014 World Championships silver medal but allowed to keep his two bronzes from 2014 Asian Games.
The biennial Sudirman Cup in 2015 was Lee’s first tournament after he came back to badminton courts from doping-violation ban. Though Malaysia was knocked out by Korea in quarterfinals, Lee won all his matches in the tournament. After returning from hibernation, Lee won his first title on June 21, 2015, when he emerged as the US Badminton Open Champion at New York. In the final, Lee defeated Denmark’s Hans-Kristian Vittinghus 22-20, 21-12. From there, Lee traveled to Calgary to play in the Canada Open Grand Prix Gold tournament and won that title as well.
Back-to-back titles in US and Canada motivated Lee to perform even better in the remainder of the 2015 season. In 2015 BWF World Championships at Jakarta, Lee entered the final by defeating world no.2 Jan O Jorgensen but lost 14-21, 17-21 to China’s world no.1 Chen Long in the title game. After Jakarta, Lee made early exits from the Japan Open, Korea Open and Denmark Open. At Tokyo, the Malaysian suffered a 17-21, 10-21 second-round loss against his nemesis Lin Dan of China. In the BWF Super-series Victor Korea Open, Lee lost at the qualification stage itself. His 19-21, 19-21 loss was engineered by Korea’s Heo Kwang Hee. Then in October 2015, Lee suffered another second-round loss at Denmark Open in Odense, where Hong Kong’s Wei Nan handed him a 21-18, 21-19 defeat.
The Malaysian shrugged off those setbacks as he went to Paris to play the French Super-Series and won the title after beating Taiwan’s Chou Tien-Chen. In the China Super-series of November 2015, Lee reached the final after defeating Jorgensen in quarterfinals and Lin Dan in semifinals. In the title game, he played brilliantly against world no.1 Chen Long and won the tournament after losing the first game. Lee capped off his 2015 season with another Super-series win at Hong Kong, where he beat Chen Long once again in the quarterfinal before outclassing China’s Tian Houwei in the final.
Despite all these victories, Lee Chong Wei failed to make the grade for the year-ending Dubai BWF World Super-series Finals. The absence from courts for nearly half the year, robbed Lee off the points required and he lost the race to the Dubai Finals. But the Malaysian has now got his confidence back, which will help him launch himself with renewed vigor as 2016 beckons. He has set his eyes firmly for the Olympic Gold at Rio. However, that may not be so easy for the 33-year old Lee because he will have to contend with the likes of Chen Long, Lin Dan, Jorgensen and Momota. As for the current BWF world ranking, Lee has made remarkable recovery and he now occupies the 4th spot after Chen Long, Jan O Jorgensen and Lin Dan. It tells a great deal about the athlete’s keen desire to attain peak form after a forced absence from Badminton.
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