Rio de Janeiro: South Korean badminton player Lee Yong-dae has hinted at his retirement from the international stage following his exit in men’s doubles competition at the Rio de Janeiro Summer Games.
Lee and his doubles partner Yoo Yeon-seong were eliminated in the quarterfinals at the 31st Summer Games. The world No. 1-ranked tandem suffered a stunning loss to Goh V Shem and Tan Wee Kiong of Malaysia.
Lee said on last Thursday he decided to retire from the national team in order to give more international stage opportunities to young players. The 27-year-old said he will hang up his national team jersey after the Korea Open Super Series tournament next month.
“I competed at the Rio Games as my last Olympics,” Lee said. “I want to give opportunity to young players.”
Although he will leave Rio empty-handed, Lee already has two Olympic medals. He won the gold medal in mixed doubles at the 2008 Beijing Games and took the bronze medal in men’s doubles at the 2012 London Games.
“I want to see other players competing at the Olympics three times just like I did,” he said. “South Korean badminton will be stronger if these young players get a chance.”
South Korea only won a bronze medal in badminton at the Rio Games after Jung Kyung-eun and Shin Seung-chan took third place in women’s doubles. South Korea has never been shut out of badminton medals since the sport joined the Olympics in 1992.
Lee, however, said he might make a comeback if young players don’t perform well in the future, suggesting that his international retirement may be temporary.
“If young athletes don’t play well and if my skills are still good, I could return to the national team when my country calls me,” he said. “If I really go out, I’ll probably miss (the national team) much.”
Lee emphasized that international retirement doesn’t mean he is quitting the sport. He added he will compete in domestic tournaments and plans to play in pro leagues overseas.
“I still love playing badminton,” said Lee who practiced with teammate Lee Dong-keun earlier in the day even if his Olympic campaign is over. “From December to February, I plan to play in pro leagues and from April, I will focus on domestic events.”
The pro leagues are currently played in countries like Indonesia, Malaysia, India and China where badminton is considered as a national sport. Lee said he has yet to decide which league he will play for.
Lee, who also has gold medal from the 2014 Asian Games, said he now wants to “enjoy” badminton and have a “life” with his family.
“For the last four years, I was away from home at least two or three weeks every month for international tournaments,” he said. “Until now, I just ran forward. Now, I want to get rid of some of the burden and think about my future.”
Meanwhile, other three badminton players are set to follow in Lee’s footsteps.
Yoo, Kim Sa-rang and Bae Yeon-joo all said during their meeting with the head coach Lee Deuk-choon on last Tuesday that they want to quit playing international badminton after the Rio Games.
Yoo, who turns 30 last Friday, reportedly made his decision to spend more time with family. His pregnant wife is expected to give birth to a baby in two months.
Kim, who was eliminated in men’s doubles quarterfinals with Kim Gi-jung in Rio, said to the coach he wants to leave the national team for his chronic neck pain treatment. The coach added the 26-year-old player could have a surgery on his cervical discs.
Bae, 25, was eliminated in the round of 16 of women’s singles at the Rio Games. She has represented South Korea for nearly 10 years and also competed at the 2012 London Games, but has yet to win an Olympic medal.
Coach Lee said he will report the players’ retirement decisions to the Badminton Korea Association once they return to South Korea next week.