Badminton our best bet in Beijing


THE Beijing Olympics takes centre stage in 2008 with all Malaysians fervently hoping that our badminton players will finally deliver the country's first gold medal that has eluded us all this while. Malaysia will not have a better opportunity come August as doubles pair Koo Kien Keat-Tan Boon Heong are currently ranked No 1 in the world while Lee Chong Wei is second only to China's Lin Dan in the men's singles world ranking.

One silver and two bronze medals is Malaysia's grand total since their first appearance in the Olympics in Melbourne in 1956 with all the medals being delivered by badminton.

But the flow of medals, albeit at a trickling pace, dried up in the last two Olympics in Sydney (2000) and Athens (2004) with the pressure now firmly on the badminton players to come good.

But Olympic glory will not the only thing on the minds of the badminton players as they also have the Thomas and Uber Cups to aim for in May.
Malaysia last lifted the Thomas Cup on home soil in 1992 and could be forced to wait a little longer to bring the Cup home as Indonesia, who will have the frenetic backing of their home fans, could gate crash the party by preventing China from making it hat-trick of titles.

The women's team, who together with the men must first negotiate the qualifying rounds in February, will hope to make the semi-finals of the Uber Cup for the first time on the back of some impressive performances by singles shuttler Wong Mew Choo.

The badminton players also have the Malaysia Open (Jan 15-20) in Kuala Lumpur, the All England Championships (Mar 4-9) and the Asian Championships (Apr 15-20) in Johor Baru to look forward to as they accumulate points during the Olympic qualification period ending Apr 30.

While badminton understandably will hog the limelight, there are several major events throughout the year to keep the Malaysian sports fan occupied.

The first two months of the year will be action packed with the Jelajah Malaysia cycling race, badminton's Malaysian Open, the Le Tour de Langkawi and the Ironman Malaysia triathlon taking place one after another.

In March, squash fans will be able to see Nicol David in action when she returns to defend her Kuala Lumpur Open title at the Berjaya Times Square with the world No 1 looking to extend her 16-match unbeaten run on home soil.

Golf fans can also look forward to a star-studded Malaysian Open, jointly sanctioned by the Asian and European PGA Tours, at the Kota Permai Golf and Country Club with the prize money being increased to US$2 million (RM6.8 million).

The Formula 1 bandwagon rolls into Sepang on Mar 21-23 for the second leg of the F1 World Championships with fans harbouring high hopes of witnessing another intriguing season.

The national men's hockey team face a do-or-die mission in April when they begin their Olympic qualifying campaign in Japan where they face world champions Germany, Poland, Switzerland, hosts Japan and a replacement team for the Czech Republic.

Only one team qualify for the Olympics from the group and if Malaysia fail to qualify, it would be the third major tournament in a row that they will have missed after the 2004 Athens Olympic and the 2006 World Cup.

The Azlan Shah Cup international hockey tournament is tentatively scheduled for May in Ipoh and the tournament will take on added significance if Malaysia are able to book their Olympic ticket beforehand.

The curtain will come down on the 2007-08 domestic football season with the staging of the Malaysia Cup final on June 2.

Two of bowling squad's biggest assignments of the year follow in July when the seniors roll off in the Asian Championships in Hong Kong before the juniors take to the lanes in Orlando, Florida for the World Youth Championships.

The men bowlers also have the World Men's Championships in Bangkok on Aug 21-31 where they will hope to prove they are just as capable as the women in winning international honours.

Football fans are in for a special treat when 2006 UEFA Champions League winners Barcelona tour Malaysia in September with the chance of getting up close and personal with the likes of Lionel Messi, Ronaldinho, Samuel Eto'o and Thierry Henry.

The national football team will be looking to redeem their battered pride when the Asean Football Championships kicks off on Nov 28 in Thailand and Indonesia before Nicol David leads a Malaysian assault at the Women's World Team Championships in Cairo on Nov 30-Dec 6.


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