Winning bronze medal at the London Olympics wasn't exactly how they wanted to end their partnership, but the South Korean men's doubles badminton team of Chung Jae-sung and Lee Yong-dae said Tuesday they were still thankful for each other's presence.
Chung and Lee, ranked No. 1 in the world, took third place in doubles. They came into London as the favorites, but lost to Mathias Boe and Carsten Mogensen of Denmark in the semifinals.
Chung and Lee were also favorites in Beijing but were eliminated in the first round. Lee earned his gold in mixed doubles and, leading up to London, he had spoken openly about his desire to help Chung get his gold medal. Chung, who turns 30 later this month, has said this would be his last Olympics.
At a press conference with South Korean journalists Tuesday, Lee said he lost his sense of purpose after falling in the semifinals, but memories he'd shared with Chung helped him regroup.
"It was difficult to concentrate in the bronze medal match, because I was so disappointed not to be playing for the gold medal," said Lee, six years younger than Chung. "But as the match wore on, memories of the past four years since Beijing came flooding back to me."
After clinching the bronze with a victory over Koo Kien Keat and Tan Boon Heong of Malaysia, Lee and Chung shared a teary embrace, with Lee doing most of the crying.
In Beijing, Lee became an instant celebrity in South Korea when he gave a cheeky wink at the camera following his mixed doubles gold medal. This time, he said the victorious moment was "more poignant."
"In Beijing, I was just excited and happy," Lee said. "Here, it just felt like the bronze medal was just as valuable and worthy as any medal."
Chung thanked Lee for helping him survive through the ups and downs of their seven years together.
"We competed in a lot of events under pressure leading up to the Olympics, but Lee never complained," Chung said. "I am grateful that he stayed with me all these years."
Chung said he and Lee were more relaxed before London than they were before Beijing, when they'd also been under burdens of expectations. Losing in the semis was deflating, but they didn't give up in the bronze medal contest.
"I got to play with the best partner you could ever hope for and we did our best until the very end," Chung said. "I think this experience will be a huge asset for me down the road in my post-playing career."