WUHAN, China — Badminton’s world number one Lee Chong Wei was put out for up to a month with a torn ankle tendon at the Thomas Cup in Wuhan Tuesday, casting serious doubt over his Olympic title bid in London.
"It is a torn ankle tendon, not a rupture. He will be out for about three to four weeks," said Tey Seu Bock, Malaysia’s singles coach. "He will go back to Malaysia as soon as possible for another MRI scan.
"It is still OK for the Olympics," Tey said, adding that Lee was "more upset about not contributing to the team at the Thomas Cup."
But with the London Games starting in July the injury is a major blow to Lee’s preparations, already hampered by a shoulder problem, a bout of influenza and a series of disappointing results this season.
"Our biggest enemy is not each other but injury," said Lee’s arch-rival and world number two Lin Dan, who took gold ahead of the Malaysian at the Beijing Olympics four years ago.
"We are not so young anymore and in the future injuries will happen more and more. We don’t have so much time left," said the 28-year-old Lin, the game’s most decorated player, about his 29-year old opponent.
Lee landed awkwardly after going two points ahead in his match against Denmark’s Peter Gade. Doctors rushed onto court but the tearful player was in visible pain as he was taken away for scans and treatment at a nearby hospital.
Head singles coach Rashid Sidek said they had considered flying Lee immediately back to Malaysia from the tournament in China for treatment, a sign of how seriously they were taking his condition.
"We are jinxed at the Thomas Cup," said Tey, referring to the event in 2006 when Malaysia lost their team captain Wong Choong Hang in a similar incident in the quarter finals.
The player, once ranked tenth in the world, snapped his Achilles tendon and was put out for six months.
When Lee went down on the court in Wuhan, Tey said the memories of 2006 came flooding back, "but when I saw Lee’s toes moving, I knew it couldn’t be as bad."
The injury scare is the latest in a run of problems to hit Lee as he makes his last bid to win gold at the London Olympics
At the India Open in April, Lee was stunned in the final by the unseeded South Korean Shon Wan-Ho, who beat him in a three-game, 66-minute thriller.
That defeat came a month after Lee was forced to retire against Lin from the All-England Championships final.
Just ahead of the Thomas Cup, Lee was struck with flu and unable to join his teammates for early training, but had looked fit and focused in his first group match against South Africa.
The Thomas Cup was a key part of Lee’s Olympic preparations, Rashid had said in a confident mood earlier this week.
"Mentally he is prepared for the Olympics. The Thomas Cup is the main part of preparation. If he does well here it will boost his confidence, especially if he plays Lin Dan and beats him," the coach said on Monday.