Lee Chong Wei announces badminton retirement

Lee Chong Wei amassed three Olympic silver medals, four World Championship medals (three silver, one bronze) and 69 singles titles over the course of 19 years. Lars Ronbog / FrontZoneSport via Getty Images

Malaysian badminton star Lee Chong Wei announced his retirement from the sport on Thursday, bringing a 19-year-long career to a close.

"My decision to retire is a heavy one. I really love this sport. But it is a demanding sport. I thank all Malaysians for the past 19 years," a tearful Lee, 36, told a news conference.

Lee, a father of two, was diagnosed with early-stage nose cancer last year and after intensive treatment in Taiwan, said he was keen to play again. But Lee hasn't trained since April and after missing a series of self-imposed deadlines to return to competition, his hopes of being eligible for next year's Tokyo Olympics were remote, his ranking having slipped to 191.

The three-time Olympic silver medallist said he now wants to rest and spend time with his family, and even take his wife on a "honeymoon", a trip that has been delayed since their marriage in 2012.

Lee's unsuccessful attempts to capture Malaysia's first ever Olympic gold medal, reaching three consecutive finals, were followed avidly by his fans, as was his long-running rivalry with Chinese superstar Lin Dan. His last shot at the Olympic gold at Rio 2016 was unsuccessful, with Lee losing to China's Chen Long in a tight final.

Lee, who was the top-ranked player in the world for 348 weeks and won 69 singles titles, had a similar run at the World Championships, winning three silver medals and one bronze medal.

'Sad day'

Cancer proved the career-ending blow but it wasn't the only low for Lee, who was banned after testing positive for a banned anti-inflammatory at the 2014 World Championships. The long-time former world number one returned to the sport in 2015, after authorities accepted he took the drug inadvertently.

"I have no regrets. More important is my health, the decision to retire is very tough," said Lee, adding that his cancer treatment was now over.

"My plan to retire was originally after the Olympic Games. I made this decision due to my health.

"You know I got married in 2012. But we (have) never gone for a honeymoon. I owe this promise (to my wife)."

Badminton Association of Malaysia (BAM) president Norza Zakaria, who was at the news conference, described Lee as a "legend".

"It is a sad day. Lee is a legend and very dependable. We accept his decision," Norza said.

"I fought for my country all the way," Lee said, adding, "Now, it's my retirement day.