I am not a fan of Peter Gade. It may be ridiculous and almost rude to say that in recounting the success of one of the greatest, if not the greatest, in European badminton.
Unprecedented five-time European champion, yes, but also five medals at the World Championships that are not in the colour of the elusive gold. As a sports fan, the inclination of support is inevitably towards the one with the greatest achievements in the sport – be it historically or at present.
But last night, the charming suburb of Frederiksberg in Copenhagen has staged the swan song of the crowning jewel of European badminton, who has ended his touted illustrious career with neither an Olympic medal nor a World title.
And the irony of the night is Gade invited the most decorated badminton player in history, Lin Dan from China, as his opponent to conclude his career.
“I thought about what would be the best way to end my career”, Gade said, “The fans at Copenhagen Masters, or in Copenhagen, have never seen Lin Dan though he did play in Farum many years ago.”
“This is the best player in the badminton world, and maybe the best ever, so I could not think of anyone better to finish off my career against than Lin Dan.”
“Every time I played against him, the matches have a special kind of feeling, and intense too, and I would love to finish off that way, and that was what we did.”
“I could not imagine a better way to end”, concluded Gade.
Unafraid to show his laurels, Lin Dan took to the court with a red jersey specially designed for the occasion displaying a number 17 - the number of “world-class” titles Lin Dan has won so far (two Olympic gold, four World titles, two World Cups, and ten World team titles) - and sitting right next to it is a crowned ‘D’.
To Lin Dan, despite the disparity in crowning glories, Gade is nothing less than an equal to the Chinese over-achiever.
“Frankly, when I was growing up, there were only two players I would watch: One is Peter Gade, and the other is a Chinese player Sun Jun”, Lin Dan revealed.
“So Gade had tremendous influence on my badminton career”, Lin Dan added. “The enjoyment I derived from watching Gade play when I was a kid increased my dedication and love for the sport and it brought me to where I am today.”
This, is why Peter Gade is in a class of his own.
The 36-year-old Dane was the first ‘superstar’ in the sport.
There had been decades of legends, household names and local heroes in the sport, but until there was Peter Gade, did badminton find its first global icon.
Many Chinese, or just Asian, badminton fans will tell you they grew up admiring Peter Gade – the same way the rest of the world would say of Lin Dan today.
So Gade won his last match against Lin Dan 20-22, 21-16, 21-14.
And while many would say the result doesn’t really matter, but it should matter, because it is a reminder to all of us that before Lin Dan, there was Peter Gade.
Gade took the value of the sport to a new level no one before him did.
As much of a global icon Lin Dan is today - a world’s top 50 most marketable athlete, that even Americans who may not understand badminton, understood who he was and coined the term “Lindanity” during the 2012 Olympics - but it was Gade who paved the way and more importantly, stayed with him through.
And Lin Dan knows that.
“I would say that up until now, no one is more passionate about the game and has loved the sport more than Gade did”, Lin Dan shared after the match.
“I knew about Gade when he was 19 and at 36, he is still on the circuit. It takes an intense passion to persist that distance. That is the one thing he has taught me.”
I may not be a fan of Peter Gade, but I am a believer of Peter Gade.
And it should be all that matters - that I believe what he represents and stands for the sport - Gade embodies passion, persistent love, patient sacrifice, and how all of that were capable of taking the sport a giant leap towards its potential.
Badminton has come a long way in developing into a global sport, and Gade played an irreplaceable role during his career but now the mandate is passed on.
Strangely enough, it was the Chinese who has caught the mandate as Lin Dan has taken the value of badminton to another level since Gade first started the engine.
So if everyone today knows Lin Dan as The One in badminton.
It’s not too late for the world to know there is also the one before the one.
And his name is Peter Gade.
By Jan Lin for Badminton Europe, free for all media to reprint or republish.