SINGAPORE (Reuters) - Former world number one Lee Chong Wei is by far the biggest name in the Southeast Asian Games’ badminton tournament but the Malaysian shuttler is happy to keep his return from a doping ban low-key as he eyes bigger goals.
For 32-year-old Lee, his appearance in the men’s team event will end a 10-year hiatus from the multi-sports gathering and while his presence will install Malaysia as favorites, an elusive world or Olympic title remains his ultimate target.
Lee has spent more than 300 weeks at the top of the rankings since 2006, collecting 55 titles along the way, yet has never been able to claim one of badminton’s biggest prizes, falling short in two Olympic finals and in three world title showdowns.
Four of those defeats came against arch-nemesis Lin Dan and the Malaysian had put off retirement for one last tilt at overcoming his Chinese rival and crowning his career with either title before his world came crashing down last August.
Lee tested positive for dexamethasone at the world championships in Copenhagen and when his ‘B’ sample confirmed the findings, he was temporarily suspended by the Badminton World Federation (BWF) as he appealed the decision.
Dexamethasone is not performance-enhancing but a commonly administered anti-inflammatory corticosteroid that is not forbidden when used off-season for rehabilitation but deemed illegal if discovered in an athlete’s body during competition.
Facing a career-ending two-year ban, Lee argued that he gained no benefit from a supplement he had taken inadvertently, convincing the BWF to reduce his back-dated suspension to eight months. He was able to return to competition in early May.
Lee is now racing against time to get match-fit for what is likely to be his last world championships in Jakarta this August before he ends his career at the 2016 Olympics in Rio.
The lost ranking points during his ban dropped him to third among Malaysian shuttlers and with only two slots per country available, he was controversially selected for the world championships ahead of higher-ranked compatriot Chong Wei Feng.
Building form and fitness in team competition before the more taxing challenge of individual action, Lee impressed with three victories in as many matches in the Sudirman Cup earlier this month and will be tough to beat in Singapore.
He will then forego the SEA Games’ singles tournament to complete his world championship preparations at the U.S. and Canadian Opens but Lee insists he will be doing his utmost to help his team win gold at the Indoor Stadium from June 10-12.
“This is the first time I’ll be playing as the second singles ... I’m excited about it,” Lee said.
“I’ve played at first singles for the most part of my badminton career. This time, I have a chance to become the hero in a team event by securing the winning point.
“We’re banking on our team spirit to overcome Indonesia and Thailand for the team gold.”
Editing by John O'Brien