Thursday, Jul. 24, 2008

49. Lin "Super" Dan

Age: 24

To China's legions of badminton fans, Lin Dan is better known as "Super Dan." It's a fittingly broad nickname for a player who is alternately super talented and super controversial. The 24-year-old Lin's play is full of both motion and emotion. He soars to smash the shuttlecock at speeds approaching 200 mph and rages against players, coaches and officials who trigger his sensitive temper. In one recent outburst the top-ranked shuttler menacingly raised his racket toward the coach of the South Korean team during a tournament in January, then lost the heated final. In the U.S., where badminton is largely relegated to beach outings and gym class, such McEnroesque antics would appear ridiculous. But in China, where the sport vies with table tennis at the top of the athletic spectrum, Lin's prima donna-ish behavior has cemented his superstar status. His good looks and romantic link to top rated women's singles player Xie Xingfang have helped, too. Last year Lin won the world single's championship, becoming only the second player to win the top event two years in a row. Now his fans wait to see if the spiky-haired bad boy of badminton can maintain his composure and help China become the first country to win all five Olympic gold medals in the sport.