OLYMPIC GLORY: The world has not seen the best of Malaysian athletes... yet
Malaysian athletes have genuine reasons to be optimistic that medals will be won by them in London.
LONDON: THERE are two potential scenarios for Malaysia in London 2012 -- bettering the high of Atlanta '96 or faring as badly as the contingent that went to Athens '04, which led to former NST sports editor Lazarus Rokk calling it the nation's own Greek tragedy.
Athens '04 led to a massive overhaul how athletes were prepared for major meets and the results were seen in Beijing four years later, which resulted in a 12-year-wait for a medal ending with Lee Chong Wei winning silver.
While that was to be Malaysia's biggest achievement in the 2008 Games, there were some other notable results achieved in archery, cycling and diving and four years later, athletes from these sports are all in the running for medals in London.
Malaysians are a pessimistic bunch when it comes to sport and they have every right to be but we must, as the curtains go up on London 2012, be proud that progress has been made and we have genuine reasons to be optimistic that medals will be won.
There is no doubt that Chong Wei is our best bet to end the long wait for gold and with him having been declared medically fit, we can be sure that he will give it his all and should, despite the potential challenge of rising China star Chen Long, take his place in the final for another crack at nemesis Lin Dan.
Lin Dan will be the favourite for his mental strength is second to none -- as shown in last year's World Championships final at the Wembley Arena, the same stage where the Olympics will be contested. Chong Wei, though, has everything to fight for and having overcome the ankle injury which derailed his Thomas Cup campaign and nearly ended his Olympic dream as well, he must utilise his final chance for Olympic glory.
Lin Dan blew him away in the 2008 final in Beijing but that was on home soil and Chong Wei never had a chance.
London is, as shown in last year's World Championships final, a different stage all together and having come within one point of glory, Chong Wei must believe he can overcome Lin Dan and win gold. The shuttler, when met yesterday, chose to focus on his first match, against Finland's Ville Lang, saying it would be a tough opener as he has not played competitively since the Thomas Cup.
"The pressure now is different compared to Beijing as what I was targeted for then was to win a medal as Malaysia had not won one since the 2000 Games. Now, I am targeted to win gold but I prefer to take it one match at a time as I haven't played competitively since the Thomas Cup.
"What I need now is to get the competition feeling and having trained at the venue for three days, I am getting there. I cannot take Chen Long for granted despite having beaten him seven times before but I believe I am ready," said Chong Wei.
He had better be ready, for defeat would mean elimination as only the group winners progress to the second round and Chong Wei has no margin for error but having done it all, Malaysia can be sure he will be challenging for honours as long as his mind and body are willing. The same can be said of Azizulhasni Awang, who has changed the landscape of Malaysian cycling with his daredevil style.
The world has not seen the best of Azizul since his calf was pierced by a piece of wood but the feeling in the Malaysian camp is that London will see him at his explosive best again. Though the final decision lies with coach John Beasley, the general feeling is that Azizul must ride in the sprint to prepare for the keirin battle, where he has a great chance to, if not win gold, land a medal. Each country is allowed only one rider in the keirin and if Azizul can make the final, then anything is possible despite the awesome threat that champion Chris Hoy is, along with several others of the world's best.
Cheng Chu Sian, thanks to his quarter-final appearance in Beijing, may be the face of archery but this is another sport that has progressed rapidly and any one of the archers may win a medal and as a team, they are a massive force too.
The same applies to diving as Pandelela Rinong has replaced Leong Mun Yee as the star but together, the pair have a great chance for a medal in the 10m platform synchro.
In fact, Pandelela is even tipped for a medal in the individual event, having mastered even more difficult dives since winning the 2010 Youth Olympics silver and Commonwealth Games gold. Bryan Nickson Lomas, still only 22 but a veteran of three Olympics, will have naturalised Malaysian, Huang Qiang, beside him in the 10m platform synchro and with each country only allowed one pair, a medal is also within reach, based on their exploits in the World Cup.
Diving has a strong presence in London but for some, making the final of their respective events will be a massive achievement but none will be under as much pressure as Noraseela Khalid and Lee Hup Wei will be.
With Malaysian athletics slowly dying, the two are only in London as wild cards but both need to achieve new highs for the sport to gain a fresh breath of air and, hopefully, start a revival.
The state that athletics is in, is a tragedy on par with that suffered by the national challenge in the 2004 Olympics but everything points to Malaysia returning from London 2012 with haul that will better the one silver and one bronze won by Cheah Soon Kit-Yap Kim Hock and Rashid Sidek, respectively, in Atlanta 1996.
MALAYSIANS IN ACTION
Today — ARCHERY: Men’s team and individual ranking round — Cheng Chu Sian, Khairul Anuar Mohamad, Haziq Kamaruddin (4pm); Women's individual ranking round — Nurul Syafiqah Hashim (8pm) *Malaysian time