By Bai Xu， Ji Ye
LONDON, Aug. 5 (Xinhua) -- Every match has a winner.
It was just one shot, which went across the back line of the court. But because it was the match point, fate became different for those at two sides of the net.
Chinese badminton star Lin Dan beat his arch-rival Lee Chong Wei from Malaysia 2-1 after dropping a game, and won the gold medal in men's singles Sunday afternoon in the Wembley Arena. He is the first shuttler to have defended his Olympic title in the event.
The word "heart-stirring" was not enough to describe how fierce the competition was, as they were both best shuttlers in an era, topping the world rankings alternatively.
Lin didn't seem to be in form in the first game, lashing the shuttlecock out of the court for at least nine times and delivering at least five returns into the net.
Lee, the No. 1 seed, changed his direction abruptly, posing threats to the Beijing Olympic champion with diagonal smashes. With a lapse of Lin, the set concluded 15-21.
The beginning of the second game saw the duo locked in a tug of war, before Lin began pulling ahead after a long exchange and finished the set quickly with a drop shot 21-10.
Atmosphere became strained in the decider, when shots from both players became faster and the pair tumbled sometimes for a retrieval. Even the umpire began making mistakes and corrected after being challenged by Lin.
Their scores tied from 1-1 to 19-19. Crowd cheered and waved national flags. But while they were playing, every one was holding breath, with only sound of the shuttlecock hitting the racket. At this time each tiny lapse could be fatal.
Lee broke the ice first by making a mistake to send the bird into the net, and then struck the last shot out of the court. 21-19. The audience seethed with excitement.
The overjoyed Lin rushed around the arena for celebration and threw his vest to the audience, while his rival sat on the court sobbing. Then the gold medalist returned to hug Lee. The song, We Are the Champions, resonated in the arena.
"I think this medal is a recognition of my efforts in the past four years," Lin said. "After the Beijing Olympics, I had to work harder to defend my title, as more people wanted to beat me."
Commenting on the match just now, the 29-year-old player said that in the first game he was performing against the wind and wasn't as active as Lee. When he was in the more favorable position against the wind, he seized the chances.
When they were tied 19-19 before the ending, "I wasn't thinking too much," he said. "I pinned my hope on my rival's lapse."
Lin became emotional at the topic of the "big four", or the four best players in the past 10 years. "We are not only rivals, but good friends," he said, referring to Lee, Indonisian prodigy Taufik Hidayat and Denish legend Peter Gade. "I am so lucky to have such great and respectable opponents in my career, and I do cherish each opportunity playing with them."
While the disappointed Lee Chong Wei said, "he made less mistakes than me."
With an ankle injury, he was so eager to win the gold medal, which would have been the first gold for Malaysia. "But I lost. It was very hard to beat Lin," he said. "There is just one Lin Dan in the world and he is great."
Four years ago in Beijing, the final of men's singles was similar, when Lee was outgunned by his Chinese foe, to whom, however, the 30-year-old Malaysian has mixed feelings
"In fact, we are good friends," he said. "I hope we can be friends forever."
China's badminton head coach Li Yongbo sat by the court while Lin was playing. "I had hoped that my presence could give Lee Chong Wei some pressure," he said.
After the match, the 50-year-old former shuttler shed tears. "He was just wonderful," he said. "They were both really wonderful and they presented the audience a show of the world's top level."
Li felt sorry for Lee Chong Wei. "To be frank, it was not easy for him, and the loss was such a pity," he said. "He was born in a wrong time. Without Lin Dan, he has been the champion already. They are equally outstanding."
Earlier on Sunday, Chinese shuttler Chen Long outplayed Lee Hyun Il 2-1 in a hard battle, snatching the bronze medal of men's singles.