Seoul: When your parents give you a name like "Big Dragon," chances are they expect great things from you. South Korea`s top badminton player Lee Yong-dae has not let them down.
Lee won the mixed doubles crown as a 20-year-old at the 2008 Beijing Olympics with Lee Hyo-jung, and a bronze at the 2012 London Games in men`s doubles with Jung Jae-sung.
Ranked number one in the world in men`s doubles with Yoo Yeon-seong, who he only partnered with last year, Lee now aims to grab his first Asian Games gold after settling for silver and bronze medals in Guangzhou in 2010 and Doha four years earlier.
With his boyish good looks and squeaky-clean image, Lee has almost single-handedly raised badminton`s profile in South Korea, which hosts the Asian Games in Incheon, west of Seoul, from Sept. 19 to Oct. 4.
Dubbed "Wink Boy" by Korean media for his cheeky pose to the television cameras after winning gold in Beijing, Lee took up badminton at the age of eight at home in Hwasun County.
"In the summer vacation of second grade I began to feel I was a too fat so wanted to do some exercise to lose weight," he told badminton website Victor (www.victorsport.com).
Located in South Jeolla Province at the southwestern tip of the Korean Peninsula, rural Hwasun is extremely proud of its favourite son.
"Although Hwasun is a small place the locals are very willing to invest and have built a Lee Yong Dae Memorial Hall and Lee Yong Dae Sports Stadium, for which I am very grateful," he said.
At the National Training Center in Taeneung earlier this month, Lee said Incheon represented his last chance to win Asian Games gold.
"This will be my third Asian Games and probably my last," he told local media. "I’ve always felt sad that I haven’t managed to win gold at the Asian Games.”
MISSED DOPING TESTS
However, Lee`s Asian Games dreams, not to mention his reputation, looked to have been shattered in January when the Badminton World Federation (BWF) announced he had been hit with a one-year ban for missing doping tests.
The notion that the lovable Lee, who had fronted a nationwide `Thank you, Mum` campaign after the London Games, could be a drugs cheat left Korean sports fans in a state of shock and legal experts were called in to help clear his name.
Three months later the BWF reversed the ban, expunging Lee`s record after new evidence came to light. South Korea`s badminton association admitted the situation had arisen due to their administrative errors and that Lee and Kim Ki-jung, who had also been banned, were not at fault.
Lee has been in blistering form since returning to competition and, despite losing out in the final of the men`s doubles at the recent BWF World Championships, he will be a hot favourite to win gold on home soil this month.
Lee and Yoo lost to compatriots Ko Sung-hyun and Shin Baek-cheol in the world championships final in Copenhagen, leaving Lee with his third silver medal after finishing runner-up in 2007 and 2009.
Lee, who also has two bronze medals from the 2009 and 2011 world championships, said his long wait for a gold medal had started to play on his mind in the finals.
"This was my third silver medal at the world championships," Yonhap News agency quoted Lee as saying. "No matter how hard I try, I find myself becoming conscious of that. I think Sung-hyun and Baek-cheol were more relaxed than our team."
With two silver and two bronze medals from the Asian Games already in his possession, South Korea will hope Lee`s desire for gold does not cloud his focus in Incheon.
"We`ll try to learn from this experience and hopefully we can perform better if we reach the final at the Asian Games," he added.