Cancer-hit badminton star Lee Chong Wei announced his retirement Thursday, ending a brilliant career in which he collected a swathe of honours but never won a world or Olympic title.
Lee, who spent a total of 348 weeks as world number one but lost six world and Olympic finals, wept as he called it quits months after suffering a cancer scare.
It’s time . An emotional @LeeChongWei formally announces his retirement after 19 year career as top Malaysian shuttler . Hailed as national hero by youth and sports minister @SyedSaddiq pic.twitter.com/LSRyvM1Ch9— Melissa Goh (@MelGohCNA) June 13, 2019
"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 he 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.
The three-time Olympic silver medallist said he now wanted 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 title at Rio 2016 ended in crushing disappointment when the Malaysian lost out to China's Chen Long in a nail-biting final.