Former world No. 1 Lee Chong Wei has announced his retirement from professional badminton after an illustrious 19-year career.
The decision did not come as a surprise.
“Today everyone knows more or less my intention for calling this press conference. I would like to announce that I’m retiring from the sport after 19 years,” said the 36-year-old during a packed press conference at the Menara KBS here on Thursday (June 13).
“It was a tough decision to make but I was left with no option after my recent consultation with doctors in Japan last month.
“(But) my health is more important,” said Chong Wei while trying to hold back tears.
He thanked those who had supported him for the past 19 years, including the youth and sports ministry, BAM, the National Sports Council and his coaches Misbun Sidek and Tey Seu Bock.
He also thanked his wife, his family and all Malaysians.
Chong Wei was diagnosed with nose cancer in July last year.
After treatment in Taiwan, he announced in a press conference in November that he had no intention to retire and would give the Olympic glory one last shot in Tokyo next year.
He was a three-time silver medallist in Beijing 2008, London 2012 and Rio de Janeiro 2016.
Although he resumed training in early January and initially targeted a competitive return at the All-England in March and Malaysian Open in April, his plans came to nought.
And lately, his on-off short training stints were disrupted and he has not been seen on a badminton court for six weeks.
There was a point when Chong Wei showed he was on the right track for a comeback.
He took to Facebook on April 4 to reiterate his desire to compete in the Olympics and resume his long-standing rivalry with China’s Lin Dan.
His post was in response to a Lin Dan statement that Chong Wei was the reason he kept competing. But after failing several times to get the green light from his doctors, Chong Wei came to accept that his days were numbered.
Besides missing the Olympic gold, Chong Wei will now also step down without having an elusive world title to his name.
He finished runner-up in his three world championships outings in London (2011), Guangzhou (2013) and Jakarta (2015).
But no one can take away the fact that he’s one of the best men’s singles shuttler the world has ever seen.
In all, he had bagged 69 titles throughout his career. That includes a staggering 46 titles in the now-defunct Superseries – the Badminton World Federation’s (BWF) top-flight circuit.
He also spent a whopping 349 weeks, including a 199-week streak from 2008-2012 as the world No. 1.
Syed Saddiq, who was also present at the press conference, said Chong Wei was a hero for all Malaysians, regardless of race or religion.
“I grew up watching him flying the Malaysian flag proudly on TV. I’m sure it was the same for many Malaysians.
“To find another figure like him will be difficult. Someone like this comes once in a lifetime. Malaysians like myself are privileged to have him.”
Calling Chong Wei a “true fighter”, he said the badminton ace had continued training even after discovering that he would have to undergo treatment.
“While the decision to retire has been made, his fighting spirit will not die but will continue to burn in the hearts of Malaysians and athletes.”
Syed Saddiq added that Chong Wei would be nominated as the next chef de mission for the Tokyo Olympics in 2020.
BAM president Norza Zakaria meanwhile said Chong Wei was a “badminton legend”.
While voicing regret over his retirement, he said he was glad that he could “call it quits on his own terms”.
“He united Malaysians like no one else could. Regardless of race, religion and politics, we all prayed that the boy from Penang would bring home glory, and he almost never failed us.
“Even when success eluded him, he fought to the end. I have been privileged to know him as a player and a gentleman,” he said, adding that Chong Wei had always remained humble and hungry for success, not only for himself but for the nation as well.
In a question-and-answer session after the press conference, Chong Wei said his doctor had advised him to rest and to cut back on pressure.
“He didn’t say retire, but I knew what he meant. I felt this is the time to step down.”
He added that his dream is for Malaysia to bring home the gold in the Olympics.
When asked if he would consider coaching, he said he would concentrate on his recovery before discussing it with BAM.
“If Malaysia needs my help, 100% I will help,” he added.
Asked if he had any regrets, he reiterated that the most important thing is his health.
When asked if he would train his son, he laughed and said he would let him decide for himself.
When asked to describe his career in one word, he said, “Grateful.”
“I owe my wife,” he added. “We haven’t gone on a honeymoon since we got married. I just went for tournament after tournament and more training. So I want to take my wife for a holiday.
“My son has been asking why I haven’t been playing. My wife sent me a picture saying ‘daddy is best’. I cried.”
Asked about his longtime rival Lin Dan, Chong Wei said he hoped the Chinese player would qualify for the coming Olympics.
“It’s tough because China has other good players, but I wish him all the best.”
He added that all his rivals on-court were, in fact, good friends.
“We are enemies only on the court. We have the same sponsors, and sometimes we meet outside of tournaments.”
Adding that he would take on no new challenges for now, he said he would nonetheless continue to give his best for the country.
“Maybe I can go to the courts to help spar with younger players,” he said.
He voiced regret that he never brought home an Olympic gold medal for the country but said he hoped Malaysia could qualify for the Tokyo games next year.
Asked what he would miss the most after retiring, he said: “The media.”
“I will miss all the reporters and media support. I will miss you all.
“I will also miss the Badminton Academy and all my friends. Even the cleaners are my friends,” he added.
The Perak-born badminton superstar is married to former national shuttler Wong Mew Choo, and they have two children, six-year-old Kingston and four-year-old Terrance.