It was the news that most Malaysians, and badminton fans the world over, feared they would wake up to.
A day we all, deep down, secretly knew was likely to come in the not too distant future but one, following fresh speculation, that came a lot quicker than many of us were, in truth, ready for emotionally.
But where speculation smoke circles, there is so often fire and as Lee Chong Wei, sat crest fallen, at a hastily arranged press conference, confirming he has retired from international badminton, that smoke was bringing tears to eyes, not least those of the superstar himself.
One of the greatest of all time.
It signifies the end of an era that will resonate the world over but is deeply felt 6,600 miles away from Kuala Lumpur at the home of the YONEX All England in Birmingham too.
A four time YONEX All England champion, a seven time finalist in Birmingham but alas, despite six finals, without the world or Olympic gold medal he, and a nation, so craved for his legendary efforts.
For us, Chong Wei’s decision comes partly with an element of relief that he can now concentrate on his wellbeing and health away from the spotlight and focus on being the best possible dad of two he can be after recovering from nose cancer.
In keeping with the man's grounded family roots, he has promised his wife a honeymoon after seven years of marriage. After a 19 year career - 348 weeks of which were spent at world number one – 103 international tour finals and 69 career titles, that honeymoon - a rest - has been thoroughly deserved.
In our eyes. he will always be a legend. A legend who for 16 years since a 2003 debut in Birmingham sparked a longstanding 14 year love affair with the YONEX All England in which he wowed, surprised, inspired and captivated us all whilst being humble, respectful of his status and ultimately totally at home on the sport’s greatest stage.
In 14 outtings at badminton’s greatest show, cheered on by an army of fans from home and overseas, Lee Chong Wei reached the semi finals or better in 11 of them. A 83% win rate speaks volume; for all our 110 year history and heritage championing legends of the game, even we simply do not have a pedestal high enough to put him on.
We didn't know it then but we are now thankful his last appearance at the All England was an epic duel with long standing rival, and good friend, Lin Dan in the 2017 quarter finals. It was their last of 40 heads to heads and if ever there was a moment when fans and players come as close as they will ever get in elite sport, this was one.
Ultimately though he bows out on the most fitting of stages; his home world tour event – the Malaysia Open, as a 12 time champion – and his victory (the 715th of his career) came against the reigning world number one on home soil.
There, of course, will be no final salute in Tokyo, no final shot at the one elusive prize but that will not blot the legacy.
““I cannot say I regret this decision, because my health is important. I took a month to decide.” a tearful Lee, now 36, told a press conference.
“My decision to retire is a heavy one. It is a very tough decision. I took the decision after my last medical check-up. Badminton is my life. Now my health is the priority.
I really love this sport. But it is a demanding sport. I thank all Malaysians for the past 19 years,”
No Lee. We thank you.
by YONEX All England Media Manager, Andrew Mitchell
Tickets to the 2020 YONEX All England (11-15 March 2020) will go on sale from 1 September 2019.
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