THIS is the hunger games for Malaysia ' hungry for the nation's first ever Olympic gold.
A Malaysian dream was born 20 years ago when badminton was officially accepted as an Olympic event.
In 1992, the nation celebrated their first ever Olympic medal ' a bronze in the men's doubles ' in Barcelona with brothers Razif and Jalani Sidek the heroes.
That medal came 36 years after Malaysia made their Olympic debut in Melbourne 1956.
Badminton continued to provide medals in Atlanta 1996 through Cheah Soon Kit-Yap Kim Hock (doubles, silver) and Rashid Sidek (singles, bronze) and Beijing 2008 through Lee Chong Wei (singles, silver), but the gold remained as elusive as ever.
This time around, there is added incentive to land the gold the nation has been eagerly awaiting for 56 years. A gold medal will be worth millions to the winner.
There is a sense of optimism that the gold is within reach as the nation will no longer be relying solely on badminton. The divers and cyclists have emerged as serious contenders and may spring a surprise.
Lee Chong Wei, who hogged the limelight as world number one from September 2008 ' just after the Beijing Games ' till June this year, is the obvious choice to realise the dream.
He raised the nation's hopes when he stormed into the final in Beijing only to be comprehensively beaten by home favourite Lin Dan and the golden hope was lost.
London will be Chong Wei's last Olympics and he has always professed his desire to quit on a high note. But the ankle injury he sufferered at the Thomas Cup Finals in June disrupted his well-laid plans.
Although he has recovered, his training was severely curtailed and nobody knows his true form as he has not played competitively since the injury. But the divers and cyclists have come to the fore to offer more hope. And chef de mission Tun Ahmad Sarji feels this is the closest Malaysia will get at winning a gold medal at the Olympics.
'For the first time we are not banking only on badminton as cycling, diving and even archery have added a golden glint to our outlook. There's no way to predict if we will strike gold but at least there's more than one sport to provide hope,' he said.
Do we really have gold medal potential among the 30-strong athletes in our contingent? The answer is definitely yes.
The 30 athletes are from nine sports ' archery, athletics, badminton, cycling, diving, fencing, sailing, shooting and swimming.
Chong Wei has always played second fiddle to his nemesis Lin Dan in major tournaments like the Olympics and World Championships. But, despite the injury, he seems like a man on a crusade, driven by the need to crown his illustrious career with Olympic gold. That makes him a serious contender. Pandelela Rinong and her partner Leong Mun Yee are among the world's best in synchronised diving while cyclist Azizulhasni Awang is capable of beating the odds in keirin.
Sarji also pointed out that there are others in the badminton team with the capability to shock.
'The focus is on Chong Wei and I would like to see him win it. But by any reckoning the doubles pair of Koo Kien Keat and Tan Boon Heong and the mixed doubles duo of Chan Peng Soon and Goh Liu Ying are in the running as well,' he said.
'There's no reason why they can't be winners. A lucky break or a sudden spike in form could make all the difference.'
Chong Wei echoed the thoughts of all the athletes when he said they are all primed to raise their game to Olympian levels. 'The Olympics demand the best and everybody wants to win gold. That is the ultimate aim. All I can say is that we in the badminton team will rise to the occasion,' he said.
Pandelela, who will be the flag bearer at today's opening ceremony, said winning gold is a dream they share with all Malaysians.
'Striving to be the best, that's what the Olympics are all about,' she said.
Whatever happens, all 30 of them have already done the nation proud by qualifying for the the world's greatest show where only the best ever get to compete.
Let us not worry too much about the colour of the medal but rather the mettle of our athletes. Their spirit and passion. The endeavour and determination to do the nation and themselves proud.
Let's celebrate their spirit of sportsmanship and all the hardship and sacrifices they have made to achieve this level of competition.
They are all winners, they who compete in the nation's name, so let us salute them.
As Pierre de Coubertin (founder of modern Olympic Games) so succinctly put it: 'The most important thing in the Olympic Games is not winning but taking part; the essential thing in life is not conquering but fighting well.
'All one can hope is for the athletes to perform their best and ensure they take one step at a time towards their ultimate glory.'
The athletes will start their medal chase in earnest tomorrow. Carpe diem!