Chong Wei wins battle of heavyweights
In Act III of this heavyweight contest, Malaysian shuttler stands tall and goes for gold
REPORTING FROM RIO
The security check was just over, efficient and thorough as it has been throughout these Olympic Games, and I was fixing my belt when I saw the flash of the Malaysian jersey coming through and immediately recognised the Dane who once ruled world badminton.
I asked Morten Frost outside Riocentro Pavilion 4 yesterday if he could do it this time, in the third act of this trilogy.
There was no need to mention names here, he knew who I was talking about and said, without hesitation: "Yes he can. I always believed Lee Chong Wei could do it and I haven't changed my view.
"This time, he will win."
And so it proved, after heart-stopping action once again, as any Lin Dan and Chong Wei clash at the Olympic Games forever will be.
After the first set, I scoured the hall hoping to catch a glimpse of the Danish technical director for Malaysian badminton.
Lee, the world No. 1 and top seed in the men's singles competition, had just lost the opening game 21-15 to his biggest rival and long-time nemesis Lin Dan in their semi-final encounter and the Chinese superstar seemed to have a spring in his step.
This has been an Olympics of firsts, record-breakers and history-makers.
Swimmer Michael Phelps and sprinter Usain Bolt have been the biggest stars, gymnast Simone Biles has hardly been dwarfed by them and our Joseph Schooling has made butterfly waves around the world.
Lin Dan and Lee were chasing their own milestones.
The Chinese was looking to win an unprecedented third singles gold after Beijing 2008 and London 2012, the Malaysian shuttler was desperate to become the first Olympic champion of his country.
He stormed back to win the second set 21-11 and, once again, this leading duo who have been at the forefront of their sport for so many years, were headed for a tense and exciting final set.
How else to settle this, if the first two games were lopsided, then the third was always going to be different as the two protagonists knew any breathing space in the score for the other would almost certainly prove fatal.
So they went toe to toe, point for point, one anguished look after another, corner coaches barking instructions intermittently, Malaysian fans and China's supporters locked in a battle of decibels in the stands.
Smashes were ramped up, in one sequence Lee cracked a bullet flashed on the side screen at 298kmh for a point, Lin Dan answered with a 313kmh riposte to collect the next point. Lee's next smash was timed at 349kmh.
He lost the gold medal fight against Lin Dan in 2008, he fell in the final to him again in London four years later after holding a clutch of match-points.
And when he finally created breathing room and stood at 20-18 here in Rio, you wondered what went through his mind.
Here was Lee again, on the brink of victory against a supreme Olympic warrior.
A final match for gold beckoned, but the nightmare of previous battles were on everyone's minds.
Lin Dan fought as only Lin Dan can, and suddenly the score was 20-20 and Lee faced his ultimate test.
He won 22-20 and celebrated unashamedly, and his biggest rival would surely have understood. This was the proverbial monkey off his back.
He knew his chase for gold would have to go through Lin Dan, he knew the world would focus on previous meltdowns against one of the greatest badminton players of all time and he prevailed, just as Frost had predicted.
The duo embraced at the end, exchanging jerseys like football players, and hugging again, warm and full of respect after seemingly a lifetime of tense struggles between each other.
Lee, 33, will be the favourite in today's final, but China's Chen Long will be dangerous and he will need to come down quickly from his high and be ready for another battle.
Speaking later, he said: "I'm just so happy. There was more pressure on me after what has happened in the past, so this is just fantastic.
"Tomorrow, I'm not thinking of winning, but just playing my game. I must just play my game."
Lin Dan, 32, refused to talk about retirement.
But he touched on his unique rivalry with Malaysia's Lee, when he said: "We are older and we had to put in even greater effort today compared to four years ago.
"Good luck to Chong Wei in the final."
Today, Lin Dan will play for bronze before Lee's attempt to win gold.
Their tale here is not quite over, but the world will probably have seen the final part of a stunning trilogy in Olympic sport at the 2016 Games.