By Peter Rutherford
LONDON (Reuters) - Lee Chong Wei moved heaven and earth in his bid to win Malaysia's first Olympic gold medal on Sunday but in the end he could not quite conquer badminton's highest peak.
While China's Lin Dan wheeled away in ecstasy after sealing the men's singles gold, a distraught Lee slumped to the court, unable to believe he had the Chinese champion on the ropes and let him get away.
Lin had embarrassed Lee four years ago in the Beijing final and while the Malaysian delivered the performance of a lifetime it was not enough to get the better of the Chinese number one.
Malaysia's chef de mission Tun Ahmad Sarji said Lee had given his all in the 21-15 10-21 19-21 defeat.
"It is like climbing Mount Everest - Lee was one or two steps from the summit, that is all," he said.
Lee, who tore an ankle tendon in May and was at one point doubtful to get on the plane for London, paid tribute to his Chinese nemesis.
"There can only be one Lin Dan in the world," said the silver medallist. "We have other players like Taufik Hidayat, Peter Gade, Chen Long ... It's not an issue for me to play with those players but it's an issue for me to play Lin Dan."
The sport has been rocked by a match-throwing scandal that saw eight players disqualified from the London Games but the epic final at Wembley Arena showcased the very best of badminton.
Lee thanked his vocal fans for coming all the way from Malaysia to support him and was disappointed not to give them the gold medal they so dearly wanted.
"I apologise to all the Malaysian people. I wanted very much to win the first ever gold medal for my people," he added.
The medal was Malaysia's first at the London Games and the fifth in total at the Olympics - three silver and two bronze - all in badminton.
"I wanted to win so much that it became too much pressure. Everyone at home wanted me to win.
"I worked very hard but what is done is done."
His coach, Rashid Sidek, acknowledged the weight of expectation that Lee had carried throughout the Games.
"It is very frustrating because all the mission wanted him to win the first ever gold medal for Malaysia," he said.
"It was very disappointing. But it was especially disappointing for him."