RIO DE JANEIRO (Reuters) - China’s Chen Long stepped out of compatriot Lin Dan’s shadow to spoil Lee Chong Wei’s hopes of a golden Olympic swansong and win the men’s badminton title on Saturday.
The Malaysian’s conqueror at successive world championship finals in 2014-15, the rangy Chinese was majestic in the 21-18 21-18 title-decider, soaking up fierce pressure and smashing through Lee’s defenses at a heaving Riocentro.
“Indeed, I was thinking about winning the gold on the Olympic stage like this,” said 27-year-old Chen, who threw his racquets and shirt into feverish clusters of Chinese fans after winning his second medal.
“But I never expected I would finally be able to grab the title.
“It was a pretty epic match, there were only two games but they lasted over 70 minutes. I believe both of us spared no efforts.”
In a career dominated by near-misses, four-time Olympian Lee lost his third successive final after being beaten by Chinese great Lin for the gold in Beijing and London.
He raised Malaysia’s hopes of finally grabbing the elusive title after edging nemesis Lin in a classic semi-final on Friday but he failed to play his best in the match that counted.
“I think no matter what, I just have to accept it,” the wiry 33-year-old said.
“I didn’t play well and Chen did.
“Ask anyone if they feel it’s a pity (losing). Of course I feel it’s a pity, it’s my third silver at three Games.”
Lee battled to the end, saving two match points but surrendered on the third with a desperate smash that sailed just wide.
An overwhelmed Chen, the bronze medalist at London, slumped to his knees and lay belly-down on the court where he grabbed China’s second title of a mostly disappointing tournament for the Asian superpower.
Viktor Axelsen celebrated Denmark’s second medal of the tournament by edging twice champion Lin 15-21 21-10 21-17 in the playoff for bronze, denying the Chinese great a medal in his final Games.
Lee came within two points of winning the gold in London and at the Riocentro, he also had his chances.
He held a 13-9 lead in the first set and was 8-5 in the second but was powerless to maintain the pressure against an opponent virtually impenetrable in defense.
With Chen’s fans bellowing “China must win!”, the Chinese grabbed four match points when Lee flicked an attempted drop-shot into the net.
In a daring net-rush, Lee hammered a shot into an open court to save one and clawed back to 20-18 when Chen smashed wide after a furious rally.
But the Malaysian finally crumbled with the desperate overhead, leaving traveling fans groaning and a nation frustrated that their wait for an Olympic champion goes on.
Editing by Ed Osmond and Nina Chestney