Occasionally, just occasionally in the history of a particular sport, a player comes along who not only beats all comers, but strides the playing arena like a colossus, displaying sustained dominance along with impressive longevity.
China’s Lin Dan has been one such player, who has comprehensively dominated world badminton for a decade-and-a-half. Bursting on the international scene as a 20-year-old in 2003, ‘Super Dan’ won the World Championship for the first time in 2006, bagged the world crown on four more occasions, picked up gold medals at two successive Olympics in 2008 and 2012, along with six All England titles, and contested for 81 top-level international titles in the course of a dazzling 15-year career at the pinnacle of the sport.
Although the Chinese left-hander was somewhat flat in his summit clash with fellow countryman Shi Yuqi at the All England Open last Sunday, he showed in the course of his march to the final that even at the age of 34, he is far from finished; and that, if he gets a favourable draw, he could be a prime contender for his sixth world title and for a third Olympic gold at the 2020 Tokyo Games.
Among the women, there have only been a few in the annals of the sport who have been totally dominant at the world level. A perusal of the list of winners at the All England Open, for long considered the unofficial World Championships, reveals that Ethel B Thomson won five titles in six years between 1900 and 1906, and had a tremendous rivalry with Murial Lucas, who bagged half-a-dozen crowns between 1902 and 1910.