KUALA LUMPUR – Since making its debut in Barcelona 1992, badminton has always been the main medal contributor for Malaysia in the Olympic Games, except for Sydney 2000 and Athens 2004.
The at the previous edition in 2016 in Rio de Janeiro (Rio 2016), the national shuttlers brought back three silver medals, their best ever achievement in the Olympics.
Apart from holding the honour of winning Malaysia’s first ever Olympics medal, a bronze through Datuk Razif Sidek-Datuk Seri Jalani Sidek in the 1992 Barcelona Games, badminton has delivered eight out of 11 medals in the country’s 65 year participation in the Games.
Of the eight medals, badminton legend Datuk Lee Chong Wei emerged as the most successful player, earning three consecutive silver medals, in Beijing 2008, London 2012 and Rio 2016, which was also his last appearance at the world’s biggest multi-sports event.
And the shuttlecock is now on the shoulders of Lee Zii Jia and his teammates to meet the fans’ expectations.
In the Tokyo Olympics, national men’s singles ace Zii Jia who leads the badminton camp will be accompanied by seven other shuttlers namely Soniia Cheah in the women’s singles, Aaron Chia-Soh Wooi Yik (men’s doubles), Chow Mei Kuan-Lee Meng Yean (women’s doubles), and Chan Peng Soon-Goh Liu Ying (mixed doubles).
All eyes will surely be on Zii Jia, as the Kedahan is touted as among the medal contenders in Tokyo following his All England 2021 triumph after defeating world number two Viktor Axelsen of Denmark 30-29, 20-22, 21-9 in the final in Birmingham, last March.
Besides beating Axelsen, Zii Jia, seeded ninth for the Tokyo Olympics, was in majestic form when he slayed the top seed, Kento Momota of Japan 21-16, 21-19 in the last eight of All England 2021 as well as creating an upset against the Olympics reigning champion, Chen Long of China, at the All England 2020 quarterfinals, 21-12, 21-18.
Judging by the current form, not much can be said about the chances of the other shuttlers except for Zii Jia, as none of them emerged victorious in all the tournaments that they joined this year and what more, they have had no competitive outings since last March due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Not only that, a tricky road lies ahead for several players as early as in the group stage draw in the Tokyo Olympics, which kicks off this Friday.
Zii Jia is in Group M with France’s Brice Leverdez, who stunned Chong Wei in the first round of the 2017 World Championships and Ukraine’s Artem Pochtarov.
In the men’s doubles category, Aaron Chia-Soh Wooi Yik have been handed a tough draw in Group D with second seeds Hendra Setiawan-Mohammad Ahsan of Indonesia and South Koreans Choi Solgyu-Seo Seungjae as well as Canadians Jason Anthony Ho-Shue/Nyl Yakura.
Peng Soon-Liu Ying, the 2016 Rio Olympic silver medallists, have been drawn in Group D, the group of death, with 2019 World Championships silver medallists and second seeds Wang Yi Lyu-Huang Dong Ping of China, Germans Mark Lamfuss-Isabel Hettrich and Hong Kong’s Tan Chun Man-Tse Ying Suet.
With a few more days to go before badminton gets underway at the courts at the Musashino Forest Sport Plaza this Saturday, the jitters will surely begin to creep in.
However, Badminton Association of Malaysia (BAM) coaching director Wong Choong Hann told Bernama that he had advised the players to keep fighting and embrace the Olympic Games’ spirit, whatever the results may be during the match days.
“The final lap of preparations is running smoothly and we are now concentrating more on building up mental strength for all players before the matches start,” he said.
The question remains, will the badminton camp eclipse the Rio 2016 feat?