Badminton legend Lee Chong Wei retires after stellar 19-year career

The three-time Olympic silver medallist and former World No. 1 hangs up his racket for good. The 36-year-old won 69 international tournaments

By Sven Busch

Former World No. 1 Lee Chong Wei has announced his retirement from badminton after an illustrious 19-year career.

At an emotional press conference the teary-eyed three-time Olympic medallist thanked his fellow Malaysians for their support throughout the years.

"I would like to announce that I'm retiring from the sport after 19 years. My decision is a heavy one. I really love this sport, but it is demanding," the 36-year old said in a packed news conference at the Sports Ministry in Putrajava on Thursday.

"It is a tough decision to make but I was left with no option after my recent consultation with doctors in Taiwan last month."

Chong Wei was diagnosed with early-stage nose cancer last July after the Indonesian Open. Details of his condition and treatment were made public in September.

He had originally planned to stop playing after Tokyo 2020 but his doctors advised him to rest and minimise pressure.

"I was given eight questionnaires to answer about my condition and the outcome came to show that I am not fit to do high intensity activities," Chong Wei revealed.

Lee Chong Wei 

"My wife broke the news, my badminton bag slipped, I started crying too"

Chong Wei knew something was wrong way back in the middle of 2018.

He just didn't know how wrong.

A check-up in July hardly broke Lee's rhythm: Hours and hours on the badminton court perfecting the skills that have brought him three Olympic and three World Championship silver medals.

It was after one of these sessions that he received the worst news of his life.

His wife was waiting, the doctors had called her.

"She came towards me, hugged me and cried. I knew it was bad news. 'It's nose cancer', she said", Chong Wei told Malaysian newspaper The Star.

"My badminton bag slipped from my grasp and I started to cry too. I slumped on the sofa crying and asked why it had to be me."

"Nightmare" Cancer Treatment

With his every move watched, scrutinised and published in the Malaysian press, Lee didn't go public with his cancer diagnosis until September.

He wanted to focus on what really mattered: getting better.

Taiwan was chosen for his treatment as there were fears that the news would be leaked in China, while Japan and South Korea presented language problems.

33 sessions of photon therapy were prescribed.

The radiation left the former No.1 at his lowest point.

"By the third week, it had taken a toll on my throat. I could not speak or eat," he told AFP in December.

"I'm just so glad that the worst is over now."

He was keen to play again following treatment. He wanted to make it to his fifth-consecutive Games.

It was not meant to be.

Stellar career

Chong Wei was World No. 1 for 199 consecutive weeks between 2008 and 2012, meaning he has spent a lifetime challenging Chinese sovereignty in badminton.

Lee reached three Olympic finals, taking silver at Beijing 2008, London 2012, and Rio 2016. He lost to superstar shuttler Lin Dan twice in Beijing and London, and Chen Long at Rio 2016.

He retires with 12 Malaysia Open titles, five Commonwealth Games titles, two Asian Championships, and three silver medals at World Championships.

Lee counts 705 wins and 134 losses overall, including 69 international titles.

His career hasn't been controversy-free.

In 2015 the 36-year-old was given an eight-month ban for a doping violation.

He was stripped of his 2014 World Championships silver medal, but the ruling stated that Lee had no intent to cheat and allowed him to resume his career.

After this emotional announcement on Thursday the father of two said he would like to spend time his family and even take his wife on a honeymoon. The couple have postponed this trip since their marriage in 2012.