Thursday August 9, 2012
What now after Chong Wei?
By P. GUNASEGARAM
We need to simultaneously develop badminton talent and push other sports to stand a decent chance of doing well in the Olympics.
ANYONE who saw the match between Malaysia’s Lee Chong Wei and China’s Lin Dan for the Olympics badminton gold would not blame Chong Wei for losing.
At the end it was so close that it could have gone either way but Chong Wei was left with silver, his second consecutive defeat to Lin Dan in the Olympics final.
There are two things that come out starkly in the wake of that memorable match – one, there is a dearth of badminton talent for Malaysia after Chong Wei exits the stage. Two, the focus of all that attention on badminton and that elusive gold detracts from some real achievements made by Malaysia in other sports in this Olympics.
If badminton had been an Olympic sport in the 1950s, Malaysia, then Malaya, would have most likely got a gold in either the singles or doubles or both in which they were dominating the world at that time.
For eight straight years from 1950 to 1957, Malaysians Eddy Choong and Wong Peng Soon took the All-England badminton singles title, the de facto world title, sharing it equally between themselves at four times each. Over this period, Malaysians were doubles champions four times.
But after 1957, the Danes and the Indonesians dominated with Tan Aik Huang in 1966 being the lone Malaysian winner until Muhammad Hafidz Hashim pulled a surprise win in 2003. And then Chong Wei came on the scene, winning in 2010 and 2011 and losing to Lin Dan this year after having beaten him in 2011.
We had a better showing in the doubles since the 1950s with Ng Boon Bee and Tan Yee Khan, winning in 1965 and 1966. In 1971, Boon Bee won with Punch Gunalan and then it was a long break before brothers Razik and Jalani Sidek in 1982. There was one more victory in 2007 from Koo Kien Keat and Tan Boon Heong. The pair lost in the play-off for the bronze in the current Olympics.
The main change in the badminton scene was the rise of China and South Korea from the 80s to become world beaters, with China being strong in both singles and doubles and South Korea in doubles.
Among the traditionally strong badminton countries such as Indonesia, Denmark and Malaysia, Malaysia has had the greatest decline, with Chong Wei’s arrival on the scene stopping the slide somewhat.
Now, in the world ranking for badminton we have just one, yes one player, in the top 25 – Chong Wei trailing Lin Dan at No 2. China has five (seven if you include Hong Kong), Indonesia has four, Denmark has four, Japan has two and India has two.
Malaysians in the top 50 are Daren Liew at 27, Muhammad Hafidz Hashim at 30, Chong Wei Feng at 32 and Tan Chun Seang at 39, illustrating the yawning chasm between our next best players and Chong Wei.
In men’s doubles, we have just two pairs in the top 25, one of whom is Koo Kien Keat and Tan Boon Heong, ranked eighth.
With Chong Wei going into his thirties, the outlook for badminton is pretty bleak indeed and with it goes our hopes for gold for a while with our performance in other sports too far below the best.
If squash had been included, we would have had a big hope in world champion Nicol David but it wasn’t.
It would be too tiresome to go into the details of the decline of badminton in Malaysia and sports in general but let us dwell instead on some positive performances by our other athletes which deserve praise and recognition.
Archer Khairul Anuar Mohd reached the quarter-finals in the individual event which puts him among the top eight in the world.
Divers Pandelela Rinong and Leong Mun Yee finished in seventh place in the 10m synchronised platform diving event. Pandelala partnered Cheong Jun Hoong for eighth position in the 3m springboard synchronised event. Bryan Nickson Lomas and Huang Qiang finished eighth in the men’s synchronised 3m springboard event.
Another diver, Yeoh Ken Nee, finished 10th in the men’s 3m springboard event.
As you read this, results for Pandelela’s individual event will be out. And look out for Bryan too.
In cycling, the “pocket rocketman” Mohd Azizulhasni Awang came sixth in keirin behind much more heralded opponents.
Some of these athletes’ performances have been described as “miserable” and “disappointing” but they are anything but that. Seventh or eighth in a field of eight finalists or sixth in a final field of six is often – very wrongly – looked at as last or second last.
But it is not – you are the sixth or seventh or eighth or tenth in the world! To get into the final round of an event in the Olympics is an honour for any country. What a fantastic achievement that is for Malaysians in sports that Malaysia had never excelled in before at the Olympics.
It is this kind of achievement that will build future champions and it is this kind of dedication and passion for the sport that will help to regain glory in badminton for Malaysia.
But let’s be circumspect about the Olympics. It is sports after all and sportsmanship and participation is just as important as achievement. If our best participate, and they do their best with the limited resources wisely spent on them, there is nothing more we can ask from them. Let’s not put too much pressure on them.
Along with Chong Wei in badminton, we must recognise and acknowledge our archers, divers and cyclists for the great achievements that they have made in their respective sport and nurture and build upon their budding talents so that they do better in future.
> P. Gunasegaram’s sleep patterns have been somewhat altered by the Olympics and he wonders if some key events like the 100m and 200m finals could not have been held at times more friendly to Asian audiences.