Kuala Lumpur: Malaysia`s Lee Chong Wei on Thursday reclaimed the world number one ranking he lost 18 months ago following a positive doping test, establishing himself as the man to beat as he takes a possibly final crack at an elusive Olympic gold medal.
Lee knocked China`s Chen Long from the summit of the Badminton World Federation (BWF) rankings, capping a remarkable comeback for Malaysia`s biggest sporting star, who had earlier bleakly fretted that his eight-month doping ban could dash his Olympic hopes.
Lee, then the world number one, had tested positive for the banned anti-inflammatory drug dexamethasone at the world championships in August 2014.
The BWF eventually decided against a possible two-year ban after concluding that Lee "accidentally" took the drug.
Since returning to the court a year ago, the 33-year-old has recaptured much of the form that allowed him to dominate the game for years, lately surging to a string of victories including a win in last weekend`s Indonesian Open that finally put him back in the world`s top spot.
Lee`s failure to add an Olympic or world title to his packed trophy case has become a defining feature of his career, earning accusations that the quiet, soft-spoken shuttler wilts on the biggest stages.
In particular, his heart-breaking losses to long-time nemesis Lin Dan of China, who defeated Lee in the 2008 and 2012 Olympic finals, have become the stuff of badminton history.
He makes no secret of his burning desire to fill that void in his career and said recently the Rio Games now loomed larger for him and Malaysia due to his previous failures.
"Everyone knows this Olympics is more important," the media-shy Lee told reporters during a recent public appearance in Kuala Lumpur.
Malaysia has never won an Olympic gold and Lee has previously acknowledged the pressure that entails.
His resurrection -- Lee will carry the Malaysian flag and lead the country`s team into the Rio opening ceremonies in August -- raises the tantalising possibility of another clash with Lin Dan, who is now third in the world, just behind his compatriot Chen.
Lee had argued that he received dexamethasone during stem cell treatment for a thigh injury and that it gave him no playing advantage.