AKARTA: Malaysia used to look at winning their first-ever gold medal in the Olympics from men's doubles badminton in Beijing in August as a high possibility.
But now, the abilities of youngsters Koo Kien Keat-Tan Boon Heong and veterans Choong Tan Fook-Lee Wan Wah to even get into the playoffs for medals are highly in doubt.
The inconsistent form of world number four Kien Keat-Boon Heong in the just concluded Thomas Cup Finals at the Istora Senayan here has poured cold water on Malaysia's hopes.
And the injury-prone Tan Fook-Wan Wah may find the going tough in their last outing at the Olympics against formidable pairs, among them South Koreans Jung Jae-sung-Lee Yong-dae, Chinese Cai Yun-Fu Haifeng, Danes Jonas Rasmussen-Lars Paaske and Indonesian world champions Markis Kido-Hendra Gunawan.
National doubles chief coach Rexy Mainaky admitted that he has a big task in his hands to keep to the promise of ending the long wait for Malaysia in the Olympics.
And he may take a drastic action by dropping one of the top two pairs and replace them with third-ranked Mohd Zakry Abdul Latif-Mohd Fairuzizuan Mohd Tazari.
The Badminton Association of Malaysia (BAM) have the right to make their choice of the two pairs for the Olympics because all three of them are ranked among the top 16 in the world when the Olympic qualifying period ended on May 1.
The deadline to submit the entries to the Badminton World Federation (BWF) is May 30.
From recent performances of the shuttlers in international tournaments, Malaysia's chances of landing a gold medal in the Beijing Games are now better in the men's singles.
World number two Lee Chong Wei was awesome in his straight-game win over world number one Lin Dan in the Thomas Cup semi-finals last Friday. It was a flying start for Malaysia in the tie but Kien Keat-Boon Heong were unable to press on the advantage in the next match and Malaysia went on to lose 2-3.
Chong Wei has certainly slashed the odds against him being among the medal contender in the Beijing Games.
National singles coach Misbun Sidek said before leaving for home from Jakarta yesterday: “ I still has goose bumps recalling how Chong Wei defeated Lin Dan. It was a masterful performance.
“Chong Wei not only justified his standings as the second best player in the world but he also showed that there is now nothing to separate them.
“Chong Wei must ride on this success and prepare even better for the Olympics. He can surely expect a backlash from the Chinese players now that he has become their target once more.”
Besides Lin Dan, China have two more players in the medal-chasing group at the Olympics because all three are among the top four in the rankings.
They are Bao Chunlai and Chen Jin. Among the others seen as contenders for medals are South Korean Park Sung-hwan and Dane Peter Gade-Christensen.
Indonesian Taufik Hidayat was in poor form in the Thomas Cup Finals and he will certainly have to lift his interest in defending the gold medal, which he won at the Athens Games in 2004.
While Malaysia have lots of work to do, mainly in the mental readiness of the players, China showed in winning both the Thomas Cup and Uber Cup that they are good for a sweep of all five Olympic gold medals in badminton.
But their chief coach Li Yongbo played down their chances.
“The team event is different from the individual. I would say that the race is still open. Denmark, Malaysia, South Korea and Indonesia can still make it difficult for us. We also do not want to rule out England in the mixed doubles and Thailand in both the men's singles and doubles,” he said.
“We have a solid coaching set-up and we are proud to have players who go the extra mile for the pride of nation. There is still work to be done ahead of the Olympics but we will be ready.”