No silver lining in sight for Malaysian badminton

FIRSTLY, let us all salute Pandelela Rinong. She became our pride and joy when she created history by becoming the first Malaysian woman to win an Olympic medal.

I watched Pandelela on TV throughout the Olympics and have a better understanding of how difficult the manoeuvres were. I also saw how strong the others were. Her bronze medal for platform diving made up for her earlier disappointments at the diving board. Pandelela could now compete among the best in the world. We are so proud of her. One up for Sarawak too!

Then we must also salute Lee Chong Wei. He deserves our profound adulation and high respect. Chong Wei fought all the way in the final against Lin Dan with an intensity and focus that we have not seen for a long time.

He entered the arena like a valiant gladiator and emerged a true hero. After that superb Olympic final performance, we can all say that Chong Wei is one real Malaysian hero, even minus the gold medal.

The way Chong Wei carried himself in the months before the Olympics, diligently training while nursing and recuperating from injuries, spoke aloud of his determination to get the nation’s first Olympic gold medal. He was a very disciplined sportsman and a true professional.

There was never a doubt that Chong Wei was under tremendous pressure but he prevailed in the end to set up the championship clash with Lin Dan. Chong Wei delivered on his promise – that was to do his utmost to enter the final and fight for gold till the end.

That he did not win the gold medal is of no consequence, not after he stole the nation’s heart with a fighting display of the highest note in one of the most enthralling badminton finals in recent times.

We can also agree on another point. For 79 pulsating minutes at least, Chong Wei united 28 millions Malaysians. Considering how we, Malaysians, are often on opposing ends on so many issues, those precious minutes Chong Wei was on court were like a badly needed tonic to put us back on track again, even momentarily.

It gave us the rare opportunity to ponder on the good, positive vibes that make us proud citizens of what should have been a great nation. Our badminton star did what no others could – he was the unifying factor for all Malaysians.

Well, Chong Wei might have brought the silver medal home from the London Olympics but there is no silver lining in sight for Malaysian badminton.

Even the man-of-the-hour himself readily agreed. We must quickly pick up the pace of our training programmes and improve on whatever is necessary, a concerned Chong Wei said this week.

“The search for the next Malaysian champion must be stepped up. I won’t be playing forever and we must ensure that there are players coming through the ranks to take over,” he said.

Chong Wei wants a successor. But there is none in sight yet. This is the issue facing Malaysian badminton today. How much longer will Malaysia depend on Chong Wei to bring glory?

Could this be the reason why Chong Wei hinted that he may compete in the Rio de Janeiro Olympics in 2016 if he was still able and fit to do so? He gave the hint at KLIA on his return from London on Tuesday despite having said that the London event was his Olympic hurrah.

So where is the next echelon of world-beaters? Are there any around now? Some of the top-ranked shuttlers in the back-up squad are Liew Daren, Chan Kwong Beng, Chong Wei Feng, Misbun Ramdan Misbun, Mohd Arif Abdul Latif, Iskandar Zulkarnain Zainuddin and Zulfadli Zulkifli.

I managed to see them in action in the recent Axiata Cup but none could come close to even the second echelon players from Indonesia or Denmark let alone the Chinese heavyweights like Chen Long or Chen Jin.

The current scenario is worrying for Malaysian badminton. Chong Wei has no successor and the most senior doubles pair of Koo Kien Keat and Tan Boon Heong have reached their peak. Their Olympic outing was described as a dismal failure. Their seven-year partnership has reached the end of the road.

I am actually glad that BAM has realised that there is nothing more Kien Keat and Boon Heong can do as a doubles pair.

I have criticised Kien Keat in this column previously for his bunga-bunga style and over-indulgence in trick shots. That will not work when your opponents are world-class shuttlers.

Those of you who managed to observe Kien Keat’s performance in London could possibly agree with me that he was the cause of the pair’s downfall. For example, in the bronze medal play-off with South Koreans Chung Jae-sung and Lee Yong-dae, Kien Keat gave away at least five points because of his failure to convert his trick shots.

No, there is no room for eccentric showmanship when you have the world’s No. 1 pair on the opposite side of the court. I hope Kien Keat has learnt his lesson in London for his own sake and for the future of Malaysian badminton.

In the women’s section, the situation is even more stressful. Wong Mew Choo was the closest we have to a Sylvia Ng or Katherine Teh. But Mew Choo has since retired and we are back to square one. Off the court, the happy news about Mew Choo is that she and Chong Wei are back together as a couple.

On court, we could only offer token resistance in women’s badminton. We only had one player in women’s singles and the only other woman player was in the mixed doubles. No Malaysian women doubles pair qualified for the London Olympics. We can kiss goodbye to the Uber Cup for the next two decades, perhaps!

One bright spark for Malaysian badminton post London 2012 is the report that Chong Wei’s valiant efforts and never-say-die attitude have inspired many Malaysians to pick up their racquets.

Many badminton schools and clubs have reported a surge in interest due to his spirited performance in London. Hopefully, some future stars will emerge from this renewed interest in the sport.

Much has been said about the sad state of affairs in Malaysian badminton but perhaps BAM should take special note of what the icon himself has to say.

“BAM has to look into grassroots development in greater detail. There are quite a number of coaches who have come into the fold and are willing to help.

“But unless a concerted effort is made, we will not be able to unearth and nurture players who have the potential to become world beaters,” Chong Wei said.

And what about the training programmes? Are our coaches good enough or are our shuttlers too dumb to learn?

I was shocked at what Kien Keat said this week. He lamented that after winning a point, he and his partner Boon Heong were at a loss about what to do to get the next point. There was no communication between them.

Kien Keat and Boon Heong are seniors and if what Kien Keat said is true, then there is something seriously wrong somewhere with our training. Was communication between partners not included in the training schedule?

Malaysian badminton is in dire straits. We are even behind South Korea and Denmark, besides mighty China and our traditional rivals, Indonesia. Even India has Saina Nehwal and Germany has Juliane Schenk.

Sorry, I don’t even remember the name of our lone singles woman rep at the London Olympics. Poor thing! But this is how insignificant and irrelevant Malaysian badminton has become in the international arena.

Wake up BAM. Please let the badminton experts run the show. – Borneo Post

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