LONDON, July 26 (Bernama) -- As the 2012 London Olympics raises its curtains tomorrow, Malaysia will take off the starting block in its hunt for the elusive first gold medal from the world's biggest sporting event since its maiden participation in the 1956 Melbourne Games in Australia.
Since 1956, only shuttlers in the men's doubles Cheah Soon Kit/Yap Kim Hock (Atlanta,1996) and men's singles ace Datuk Lee Chong Wei (Beijing 2008) have come close to clinching gold but ending up with silver medals.
The Sidek brothers, Razif and Jalani, contributed Malaysia's first Olympic medal with a bronze at the 1992 Barcelona Games while their younger brother Rashid took home a bronze from the men's singles at the same Games.
It is noteworthy that all the medals have come from badminton.
Unlike the previous editions though where Malaysia had depended heavily on badminton for the gold medal, the country is now banking on several other sports at the London Games, such as cycling, diving and archery.
The Malaysian contingent comprising 30 athletes will be led by chef-de-mission Tun Ahmad Sarji Abdul Hamid.
Olympic Council of Malaysia (OCM) president Tan Sri Tunku Imran Tuanku Ja'afar had recently observed that Malaysia's high quality contingent for the London Olympics had a good prospect of winning medals.
"At this year's Olympics, we have more medal prospects compared with the Beijing Olympics (2008).
"We have many more divers with great potential, our cyclists have improved and so has our men's archery team. As for badminton, our top players are still there," he said.
The 30 athletes are from nine sports, namely archery, athletics, badminton, cycling, diving, fencing, sailing, shooting and swimming.
Among the sports involved, diving has the biggest number of athletes with eight, followed by badminton (six), cycling (five), archery (four), swimming (two), athletics (two) and one each in fencing, sailing and shooting.
Names like Chong Wei (badminton), Mohd Azizulhasni Awang (cycling), Pandelela Rinong and Bryan Nickson Lomas (diving) are synonymous with their respective events.
Their consistency at their respective world meets will ensure that the performances of Malaysian top athletes 'are there', and with the help of Lady Luck, they would be able to overcome the hurdles to reach the gold.
National shooter Nur Suryani Mohd Taibi, 30, had grabbed headlines in many countries as she will be eight months and five days pregnant on the day of her event, the women's individual 10m Air Rifle scheduled for Saturday, one day after the opening ceremony.
She will also be only the fourth pregnant athlete to compete in the Olympics after Magda Julin (1920), Diana Sartor (2006) and Kristie Moore (2010), all of whom competed in the Winter Games.
With the support and prayers of 27 million Malaysians, including Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak himself, a handsome reward awaits the first Malaysian who ends the country's barren gold run at the Olympics.
Under the Youth and Sports Ministry's Sports Incentive Scheme (Shakam), the winner of a gold medal stands to receive a RM1 million cash incentive.
In addition, furniture company 3V Holdings Sdn Bhd is offering another RM1 million for the first Malaysian to land the Olympic gold.
And the Malaysian shuttlers have an extra motivation as besides the RM2 million on offer, they stand to get an additional incentive of RM2 million (gold bar), courtesy of the Kuala Lumpur Rackets Club (KLRC) chief, Datuk Seri Andrew Kam.
For its part, the government has allocated RM26 million for the 'Road to London' programme between 2009 to 2012 with the ultimate aim of securing the country's first ever gold Olympic medal.
Now its up to our athletes to give their best and bring home the elusive gold.
Let the Games begin.
By Zulhilmi Supaat -- BERNAMA