By Ian Ransom
LONDON (Reuters) - "There is only one Lin Dan."
That was Lee Chong Wei's simple but effective assessment of China's peerless badminton great after Lin beat the Malaysian in the Olympic men's final on Sunday.
The pair fought a 79-minute classic, the conclusion of every point roared on by a packed crowd at Wembley Arena.
Lee threw everything at his long-time nemesis in a bid to clinch his nation's first Olympic gold, but inevitably it was Lin, the patriot and People's Liberation Army officer, saluting the red flag of China as the "March of the Volunteers" played.
"This gold again confirmed my hard work over the years, because I knew to get this again I'd have to work even harder," Lin told reporters after his 15-21 21-10 21-19 victory.
"I had to sacrifice quite a lot after (Beijing) 2008 because I want to retain the title. A lot of good athletes want to have this medal. Today it's a positive for me, for my efforts and for my sacrifice."
The win made Lin the first man to defend an Olympic singles badminton title and inspired his doubles team mates to complete China's unprecedented sweep of all five Olympic titles.
It also helped lift China out of turmoil after their world champion women's doubles pair were among eight players booted out of the tournament for playing to lose their matches to improve their positions in the knockout rounds.
Lin, already one of his country's most marketable athletes after winning gold on his home court in Beijing, said earlier this week that the ultimate Olympic prize no longer motivated him.
He was only interested in providing the crowd with a show and getting more Europeans interested in the sport, beloved in Asia but low in profile elsewhere.
He defended his team mates when they were disqualified, saying he understood why they had tried to manipulate the format, but was strident that the sport's credibility had been tarnished by their tactics.
"That was not in the Olympic spirit," he said on the day of their disqualification.
Lin held out hope of a fourth Olympics, but mindful of the team's vast strength in depth, would make no bold predictions.
A long-delayed banquet to celebrate their marriage beckons for the 28-year-old and his wife Xie Xingfang, herself a former world champion badminton player who took silver at the Beijing Games.
Delayed for years by his training for London, Lin said that when it came together he would invite his long-time rivals Lee and 2004 Athens champion Taufik Hidayat, both of whom have confirmed they will never play in another Games.
"I want to give my wife a perfect wedding," Lin said.
"I definitely want to invite Lee and Taufik and other great players. It all depends on whether they have time.
"I don't ask for too many gifts, just a big 'hongbao'," he joked, referring to the red packets stuffed with cash traditionally given at Chinese weddings.
(Editing by Peter Rutherford)
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