The game was over.
The show, however, had just begun.
Lin Dan had been wonderful. Would you have expected anything else? He had won decisively. Of course he had. By the end, even his beaten opponent was applauding him. Everyone else, too.
And so Lin moved across the floor like a rock star working the stage, feeling the moment, working the crowd. He shouted with joy, and the fans roared their approval. He slid across the baseline on his knees, pumping both fists, and the flags waved. He rapped the heel of his racket four times, and the noise swelled. He tossed an empty sports drink bottle into the stands, and a nation nearly swooned.
Super Dan had won again.
What do you know? Once again, he looks like the best badminton player at the whole darned picnic.
For most of the night, the fans at the Bejing University of Technology Gymnasium could not get enough of Lin, the baddest mintoner of them all. They chanted their sing-song cheers, erupting with delight whenever he won a point. Even if the shuttlecock merely landed out on a long shot by Denmark's Peter Gade, the noise would swell as if the fans had just seen a long home run in the bottom of the ninth.
In other words, it sounded very much like one land clapping.
Who can blame China for enjoying the past week. Imagine what it must be like to be a citizen here. The world is watching, and the nation is showing there is something special here.
True, the Spanish basketball team has mocked it while posing for a racist picture, and the Americans have questioned the age of its gymnastics team. Even so, it has been an exquisite seven days.
A week ago, a man walked on air at the opening ceremony, and China has pretty much walked across everyone else since then. By the end of Thursday, Beijing time, the Chinese had won more medals than anyone. If you count only gold medals, they had won more than twice as many (22-10) as the vaunted U.S. team, and if not for the great Michael Phelps, it would have won more than four times as many.
It was only three summer Olympics ago, in Atlanta, that the Chinese won only 16 gold medals. That jumped to 32 (four short of the United States) by Athens four years ago. This year, who knows where it will stop?
Forty-two years after the Cultural Revolution began, the world is watching one that involves sports. During the day, fans encircle televisions across the city to watch Yao Ming play basketball. Soon, the revered Liu Xiang will try to defend his gold medal in the hurdles. Yang Wei has won two gold medals in gymnastics. Table tennis, where the gold has always been minted especially for the Chinese, has a lot of medals yet to be won.
This was the point, remember? China wanted the Olympics to open its doors, to fatten its wallets, to reshape its image. In other words, it wanted to show off a little.
And if showing off is what you want, well, Super Dan is the man.
If other athletes make the hearts of the Chinese swell, it is Lin who makes them throb. As he plays, the Chinese smile in wonder, as if all the fireworks of the opening ceremony have been transferred to his racket.
Ah. So that's why China loves badminton so much.
Picture piecing an athlete together with Zorro's flare and Madonna's showmanship, with a wide receiver's arrogance and a quarterback's brashness. Lin is Rafael Nadal with a smaller racket. He is, judging by the screams of the teenage girls, the lost Jonas brother.
You cannot take your eyes off him. He is always gesturing, always fidgeting, always talking to himself. He carries himself like an athlete saying, "Hey, get a load of me."
What? Did you not realize that Chinese athletes have flair, too?
Super Dan is full of it. He is among the 10 most popular athletes in China, and he earns an estimated $1.7-million a year. He seems to enjoy the celebrity, by the way. He poses. He blogs. At times, he has ripped the shirt from his body to celebrate a victory. He even dates high-profile: His girlfriend, Xie Xingfang, is also a Chinese badminton player.
Then there are the Dirty Dan moments, too. Lin has spent most of the summer denying that he threw a punch at his coach. There is no denying, however, the spat he had with Korean coach Li Mao, who he said was swearing at the Chinese team. It's all enough to make you wonder: What is Chinese for "You have got be kidding!"
Still, who can be angry at Super Dan? All he wants is for everyone to love him, and China seems more than willing to do so.
Him, and every other Chinese athlete on the medal stand.