China's Badminton Star Takes Gold

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Cameron Spencer / Getty Images

China's Lin Dan celebrates winning the gold in badminton against Lee Chong Wei of Malaysia on August 17

It took only 39 minutes, but by the end it was a wonder that the screaming, hysterical women had any voices left at all. In one of the Games' most lopsided gold-medal matches, China's Lin Dan demolished Malaysia's Lee Chong Wei in men's single's badminton, 21-12, 21-8. As the heavily partisan fans raised the decibel level past rock-concert intensity, Lin rewarded the audience after the match by throwing his racket into the crowd. Next came one sweaty shoe, then another. Chances are Lin's throwaways are already attracting furious bidding on Chinese online auction sites — if, that is, the lucky recipients can bear to part with such national treasures.

It's hard to describe just how adored this shuttlecock master is in China, where badminton is followed with the kind of passion Americans reserve for basketball or baseball. Sporting a coxcomb of spiky hair and stylish sideburns, Lin goes by the nickname Super Dan — pronounced "dahn," not like the shortened version of Daniel. After striking gold, the 24-year-old circled the stadium with a Chinese flag fluttering from his shoulders, like Superman with his cape.

Super Dan's kryptonite is his temper, which threatens to erupt at any moment. Last year, the Chinese media wrote eyewitness accounts detailing how Lin had decked his coach during training. Although Lin denied that incident took place, it was harder to ignore another public confrontation last January when during a match he reacted to a disputed call by yelling at a South Korean coach and threatening him with his raised racket. Lin never apologized.

But badminton's John McEnroe gets away with his tantrums because he's such a phenomenal player. Lin has been the world champion for the past two years, and the left-hander made Olympic silver medalist Lee, ranked No. 2 in the world, look sluggish and flat-footed. The Malaysian's longest scoring streak was two points. At one mortifying moment in the second game, the score was 11-1.

Badminton was introduced as an Olympic sport at the 1992 Barcelona Games. Asians have dominated the sport's medal tally, which is perhaps fitting since the modern version of the game was popularized by British military officers stationed in colonial India. Indonesia and South Korea initially claimed the majority of medals, but by the 2000 Olympics, China had won four golds. At the Beijing Games, China has won three out of the five available gold medals, a sub-par performance for a team that expects nothing short of utter domination.

A day after the Chinese men's doubles pair lost to an Indonesian squad, Lin was ready to reclaim national pride. He loped into the Beijing University of Technology gymnasium like a heavyweight prizefighter looking for trouble. Lee, who had previously expressed nervousness about competing against a national hero, stood no chance. The crowd mercilessly booed the Malaysian, while a troupe of Chinese cheerleaders dressed in skimpy ethnic-minority costumes whipped the audience into a frenzy. It was the kind of atmosphere one might imagine at the deciding game of an NBA final, but this was badminton Chinese style. And no one attracts more fervent shrieks from female fans than Super Dan — especially when he has just won his first Olympic gold medal.