China's 'Super Dan' does it his way

BEIJING (Reuters) - With his spiky hair, bad boy attitude and famous girlfriend, men’s world number one Lin Dan is very much a new kind of sporting hero for China.

China's Lin Dan plays a shot against Thailand's Boonsak Ponsana during the quarterfinal of the Thomas Cup badminton championships in Jakarta in this May 14, 2008 file photo. REUTERS/Beawiharta

It remains to be seen, however, if the man the Chinese call ‘Super Dan’ can control his temper and claim the biggest prize in badminton at the Beijing Olympics next month.

Unsurprisingly, the 24-year-old lefthander, who crashed out in the first round in Athens four years ago, is confident of taking his chance of glory on home soil.

“This is the best chance for me and also for my team mates to win a gold medal ... I am in very good form right now,” Lin told the China Daily recently. “All of us will be in top gear coming into the Olympic Games.”

Since Athens, Lin has been number one for all but a few months of 2006 when Malaysia’s Lee Chong Wei took the mantel.

But the Athens defeat and two losses to Taufik Hidayat, which cost him the world title in 2005 and Asian Games gold in 2006, raised big questions about his temperament.

The accusation was that his temper got the better of him particularly when he met tough opponents in major tournaments. His rivalry with mercurial Indonesian Taufik, who has accused Lin of arrogance, has certainly featured a string of spats.

Lin’s most recent public bust-up was with South Korea’s Chinese coach Li Mao in January.

During a defeat to Lee Hyun-il, Lin threw his racket in Li’s direction after protesting a line call awarding a match point to Lee. Lin refused to apologise for his outburst, saying Li was insulting him in Chinese.

In April, Lin was forced to deny on his blog ( newspaper reports that he had punched his coach Ji Xinpeng in training.

Despite his indiscipline, Lin is an officer in the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) and signals his victories with a triumphant military salute -- more food to critics who feel he should be more humble.

The questions over his temperament remained even after he won the world title for the first time in 2006 and retained it last year as well as rattling off three All England titles in four years from 2004.

Yet he remains popular in China, not least because of his long relationship with women’s world number one Xie Xingfang, who also won the singles title at the 2006 world championships and the All England in 2006 and 2007.

Together they are known as the “Condor Couple”, a reference to a popular Chinese novel about an impetuous young warrior and his calm older lover.

Fujian-born Lin Dan started playing badminton at the age of 5 and was selected for the national team at 18.

He won his first major international title in the 2003 Denmark Open and quickly rose to be world number one in 2004 but without an Olympic title he will not be able to take his place among the game’s true greats.

Fate has conspired to improve his chances in Beijing.

Taufik’s title defence looks rocky as he languishes in hospital with dengue fever and Lee opens his campaign against Singapore’s Ronald Susilo, the man who beat Lin in Athens.

Whatever happens, Lin will do it his own way.

“People have different characters and different temperaments,” he told Xinhua at the Asian Games.

“But I think the most important thing is to play the game well, win, and win over the fans with victory.”

(Additional reporting by Nick Mulvenney)

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