By Ian Ransom
LONDON (Reuters) - Former world number one Peter Gade has spent his entire career defying Asia's badminton titans and will drag his creaky 35-year-old body into a fourth Games at London still dreaming of an elusive medal in his last Olympic hurrah.
The only non-Asian man in the singles top 10, the determined Dane is arguably the finest player without a podium finish on his resume.
Injuries and the misfortune of running into opponents playing the match of their lives have conspired to thwart Gade's ambitions, and he heads into his last Games with a sore ankle among a litany of aches and pains from a long and storied career.
But the iron-man of badminton is determined to drain every last drop of sweat on the Wembley Arena courts before contemplating the "scary" thought of retirement at the end of the year.
"A medal would be a dream. I know it's going to be very difficult," the amiable world number five told Reuters at the Athletes Village.
"One more time ... I need to push myself to take everything I can from my mind and body and we'll see if it's enough to do something really good.
"Of course, my knees, my ankles -- I can feel them. Many years of hard practice, it shows in my body. Still, I'm quite happy that I'm 35 years old and can still play like this.
"I left my mark on the badminton world and I'm proud of that no matter what happens."
Gade's three Olympic campaigns all ended at the hands of the eventual winner. Favored to win in his debut at the 2000 Sydney Games, he came heart-breakingly close to medaling but was upset by seventh-seeded Chinese Ji Xinpeng in the semi-final. Ji never won another major title.
Four years later he was steamrolled by an inspired Taufik Hidayat in the quarter-finals at Athens. Gade arrived at the 2008 Beijing Games with a painful rib injury, and was a gallant quarter-final loser to Chinese great Lin Dan.
Taking bronzes at the last two world championships, Gade's ability to coax world-class performances from his ageing body is a mirror of the Danish team's struggles to remain competitive against far better-resourced nations like China and South Korea.
The pint-sized Scandinavian country, with a population of about 5.5 million, ranks third for world championship titles behind top-ranked China and Indonesia, and were the only nation to defy the Chinese sweep of all five titles at the 2009 tournament.
Denmark produced the only player from outside China, Indonesia and South Korea, to win gold since badminton joined the Olympic programme at the 1992 Barcelona Games, when Poul-Erik Hoyer-Larsen won the 1996 men's singles at Atlanta.
Despite remaining strong, Denmark, like all other nations, has had to make way for the Chinese juggernaut, which swept all five titles at the last two world championships and could well do so again at the July 28-August 5 tournament at Wembley Arena.
China's utter dominance has become a major concern for badminton's administrators with smaller countries simply unable to compete with the massive resources and playing pool of the east Asian power.
"We are up against the laws of nature, because of the economics and because of the amount of talent in China," said Gade's barrel-chested coach Lars Uhre.
Uhre paints a grim picture of brutal Chinese training regimes where players engage in 'last man standing' practice sessions until physical and emotional breakdown.
"The Chinese national coach (Li Yongbo) is just picking them out and making them compete as much as they can against each other so he can see who is falling apart from injury and who's dragging mentally.
"And then he picks the last few survivors.
"We can't rely on our volunteer-based club system anymore," added Uhre.
"We need more funding but we don't need to do it the Chinese way or need Chinese amounts of funding to be able to compete.
"There's a big difference between sweeping all five world titles. Our goal here is to take a medal."
Gade echoed Uhre's calls for the Danish authorities to cough up more funding, but said he could not begrudge the Chinese success.
"I don't think it's ruining the sport. I understand it's really boring if you see three out of five finals at a big championship where it's China versus China. That's no fun for anyone," he said.
"But my view is that I will never lay down. My view is that I always think of course there is a chance to beat them.
"And I honestly feel that we don't need the same amount of resources as the Chinese.
"It is possible for a small country to compete against a huge nation like the Chinese. I think it's possible.
"But we have to admit that they are quite good at it."
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