China's temperamental world No 1 badminton player Lin Dan once again failed to control his emotions during his Korea Open Super Series final loss to Lee Hyun-il on Sunday, but he blamed his outburst on his compatriot Li Mao, the coach of South Korea men's team.
China's Lin Dan (right) argues with South Korea's Chinese coach Li Mao during the men's singles final of the Korea Open Badminton Super Series against South Korea's Lee Hyun-il in Seoul on Sunday.
"I was provoked by his verbal insults and I could not control myself at that time," Lin told CCTV yesterday.
Dubbed "Super Dan" by Chinese fans, Lin is one of the most popular players in the nation thanks to his spectacular skills, his high-profile romance, and his straightforward personality.
The mouthwatering final, which hometown ace Lee won 4-21, 23-21, 25-23, was marred by controversial line calls and climaxed with a heated exchange between Lin and Li that threatened to spiral out of control.
"He was talking and shouting endlessly at my back while I was competing," Lin said. "After the last controversial call, he was even verbally attacking the Chinese team with dirty words. So I chose to fight back."
The clash broke out after a shuttle from Lee seemed to have gone out from Lin's baseline, but was called in by the line judge.
As the umpire was unsighted, the line judge's decision stood and it proved to be the turning point as it brought match point to the Korean, 21-20.
Lin complained to the umpire as he approached the chair. As he neared the coaches' chairs, the video review showed, Li clearly said some things that Lin Dan didn't like.
Lin suddenly lost his temper and raised his racket toward Li, leading to a shouting match between Lin, Li and Zhong Bo, Lin's coach.
Lin's emotions carried onto the court, where he lost his composure a few minutes later as he watched Lee convert his third match point to win 25-23.
China's Lin Dan (left) argues with South Korea's Chinese coach Li Mao (right second) during the men's singles final of the Korea Open Badminton Super Series against South Korea's Lee Hyun-il in Seoul on Sunday.
Li, who left in 1999 to pursue an overseas coaching career after an acrimonious split with current Chinese head coach Li Yongbo, accused Lin of being "rude and immoral" immediately after the clash.
"He picked up the racket and threw it toward me. It's rude and immoral. I have never seen such an ill-cultivated player in my coaching career," said a furious Li. "I was so angry at that time. I pointed my finger at him and questioned him 'You want to beat me, right?'
"During the clash, his coach Zhong also rushed forward and pushed me. I also pushed back and everything was in a mess."
Li also said the Korean team will file a complaint with Badminton World Federation (BWF), the sport's governing body, about Lin's attack.
But Lin, still China's top favorite to win back Olympic men's singles gold after failure in Athens four years ago, said the fracas was never in danger of getting physical.
"It's a long distance between him and me. It's impossible to throw a racket or have physical clashes," he said.
Controversial calls have led to many similar incidents in badminton. As a result, incorporating tennis' Hawk-Eye review system into badminton is gaining popularity among athletes and some umpires.
But compared to tennis, badminton is still far less popular globally in terms of the number of spectators and sponsors, meaning BWF can't afford such a hi-tech system, which is estimated to cost about $400,000 to employ.
A BWF six-star tournament - the highest-level badminton series - can only offer grand prize money of $250,000.
Lin's shameful outburst wasn't China's only misfortune of the day.
A few minutes before Lin's loss, women's singles hopeful Lu Lan became the victim of former national team ace Zhou Mi, now playing under Hong Kong's banner and recently contracted by Kuala Lumpur Racquet Club.
The resurgent Zhou also defeated reigning Olympic champion Zhang Ning in the quarters and has emerged as another one of China's main opponents at the Beijing Olympics.
China also suffered a loss in mixed doubles and had only two consolations from women's doubles and men's doubles.
The Korea Open was the second in a string of embarrassments for China after last week's Malaysia Open, where China also only managed to clinch two titles in women's doubles and mixed doubles.
These successive blows sound strong warnings to China's prospective for the Beijing Olympics, especially to the women's tradition of dominance in singles play.
Four years ago in Athens, Zhang was crowned in the women's singles and Lin failed to make it after a final loss to Indonesian bitter rival Hidayat Taufik.
Aging and injury-plagued, Zhang has been slumping ever since, now going nine months without a trophy and in danger of being replaced by a younger shuttler right before the Beijing Games.
Meanwhile, world No 1 Xie Xingfang, also Lin's girlfriend, and other rising teenagers like Lu and last year's world champion Zhu Lin, are frequently criticized for their inconsistent performances in big tournaments. No one is confident they will be able to beat Danish woman Tine Rasmussen or Wong Mew Choo from Malaysia if they meet in the final in Beijing.
Rasmussen won last week's Malaysia Open at the cost of Zhu in the final and Lu in the quarterfinal.
At the Japan Open last September, Rasmussen demonstrated Europe's growing competitiveness with wins over Chinese national champion Jiang Yanjiao, Zhang, Lu and then Xie in the final.
Wong upset Xie in the final of last November's China Open, where the host settled for only two out of the five titles, China's worst showing in 14 years at the tournament.
(China Daily January 29, 2008)