KUALA LUMPUR: The biggest fear of every Malaysian must be that Lee Chong Wei will end his last Olympics empty-handed – denied by China’s badminton assassins Lin Dan, Chen Long and Chen Jin.
But BA of Malaysia (BAM) high performance director Datuk James Selvaraj strongly believes that is unlikely to happen. He described Chong Wei’s determination and resolve over the past month as quite unbelievable.
James is amazed at how fast world No. 2 Chong Wei has recovered from the ankle injury he picked up at the Thomas Cup Finals in Wuhan in May. He declared that the Malaysian ace was ready for the battle in London.
“Physically, he has got himself back to where he was before the injury. All he needs now is a good measure of confidence to go with it,” said James before leaving with the Olympic shuttlers for England yesterday.
“Three weeks after the injury, he was running. He was back on court sooner than expected. It speaks volumes of his sheer determination to do well. I’m happy with the commitment shown by him and the others.”
Beijing Olympics silver medallist Chong Wei and fellow London qualifiers Koo Kien Keat-Tan Boon Heong, Chan Peng Soon-Goh Liu Ying, Tee Jing Yi left for England yesterday with five coaches and 10 sparring partners.
They will be based in Bath University for 11 days before they head to London for the competition from July 28-Aug 5.
James said it would be all mind games from now on.
“China have won the first round of the psywar by having three qualifiers in the men’s singles. They have shown that they have the quantity and quality to make a bid for an historic 1-2-3 sweep of medals in the event. But I believe that Chen Long and Chen Jin are beatable and Chong Wei will return home with a medal,” said James.
Barring any upsets, top seed Chong Wei and second seed Lin Dan are expected to clash in the final. And, depending on the draw on July 23, Chong Wei may meet either Chen Long or Chen Jin in the semi-finals.
The losing semi-finalists will cross swords for the bronze in the third-place playoff.
A total of 40 players, including several veterans like Peter-Gade Christensen of Denmark, Taufik Hidayat of Indonesia and Lee Hyun-il of South Korea have qualified for the Games.
“They will be divided into 16 groups and only the winners of each group will advance to the elimination round.
“Jing Yi has qualified by a stroke of luck in the women’s singles and it will be a good experience for her. As for Koo-Tan and the mixed pair of Chan-Goh, both should grab their chances to win medals.”
With 11 crucial days in serene and peaceful Bath, James said a lot of planning would be done – especially on analysing the probable opponents.
National Sports Institute (NSI) sports code experts – Kokum Weeratunga and Jerry Gan – will be feeding the team valuable scientific input on the various strategies to be adopted.
“The intensity of the training will be reduced slightly but we will be doing a lot of planning and talking. The body is ready, we now want the minds of the players to be prepared for the battle as well,” he said.
James, a former national champion, hoped that his first outing to an Olympic Games would be a successful one.
“I have represented Malaysia in every major tournament as a player, coach and official but this will be my first Olympics. During my time, badminton was not an Olympic sport. I hope the players will make it even more memorable by winning the country’s first gold medal,” he added.
Malaysia’s previous medal winners: 1992 Barcelona Games: men’s doubles bronze from Razif-Jalani Sidek; 1996 Atlanta Games: men’s doubles silver from Cheah Soon Kit-Yap Kim Hock, men’s singles bronze from Rashid Sidek; 2008 Beijing Games: men’s singles silver from Chong Wei.