BEIJING, Aug 6 (Bernama) -- Malaysias best ever hope of winning a gold medal in the Olympics will undoubtedly rest on the shoulders of the shuttlers, more precisely on men's singles world number two Lee Chong Wei, who will helm the local charge.
The 26-year-olds recent form and winning streak has raised the optimism of 27 million Malaysians to dare dream of witnessing history unfold in a country which has ruled world badminton with a clenched fist.
It is no secret that China, the reigning Thomas and Uber Cup champion and parading the world number one mens and womens singles players will be the outright favourites for the gold during the Beijing Olympics which opens on Aug 8.
However, just two months ago, Chong Wei threw the ranking books out of the window by virtually strolling past world number one Lin Dan during the Thomas Cup semi-finals in Jakarta, winning in straight sets 21-12, 21-14 although Malaysia eventually lost the outcome 2-3 and failed to make the final.
He continued his impressive form by winning the Singapore Open a month later, beating Simon Santoso in the final.
With the Malaysian government offering a million ringgit for an Olympic gold medal, Chong Wei will have all the more reason to tame his arch rivals Lin Dan, Bao Chunlai or Chen Jin in their own den.
However, the Penang lad says he wants to remain focused and not think of the money or the prospect of becoming a millionaire as it would only add unnecessary pressure.
"I have been training very hard and want to take one match at a time.
If I keep winning, the titles will come but I must say that playing at home will give the Chinese players a slight advantage but sometimes playing in front of the home crowd can also add on to the pressure," he said.
He also feels that if ever there was a chance to win a gold medal, it will be in Beijing as age will be not be on his side when the 2012 London Olympics comes around since Chong Wei will be 30 by then.
Malaysia has been participating in the Olympics since the Melbourne Games in 1956 but a gold medal has continued to elude although Cheah Soon Kit and Yap Kim Hock, who is now the head coach of the Malaysian badminton team, came close in the 1996 Atlanta Olympics.
The duo ended up with a silver after losing to Ricky Subagja and Rexy Mainaky, the latter is currently the national doubles coach.
Two bronze medals came through Rashid Sidek in the 1996 Atlanta Olympics mens singles and his elder brothers Razif and Jailani from the mens doubles at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics.
At the Athens Olympics in 2004, Chong Wei who beat Ng Wei of Hongkong in the first round was knocked out in the last 16 by Chen Hong of China.
In his opening match on Aug 9, Chong Wei faces Singapore's Ronald Susilo, the conqueror of Lin Dan in the first round at the Athens Olympics.
Apart from Chong Wei, Wong Choong Hann who faces defending champion Taufik Hidayat in the first round, is the other Malaysian in the mens singles while Koo Kien Keat-Tan Boon Heong and Choong Tan Fook-Lee Wan Wah will feature in the mens doubles.
Wong Mew Choo is the sole representative in the womens singles while Wong Pei Tty-Chin Ee Hui carry Malaysian hopes in the womens doubles.
Apart from badminton, the Malaysian contingent comprising 33 athletes are also participating in athletics, archery, aquatics (swimming, diving), weightlifting, cycling, sailing, shooting and taekwondo while wushu exponents will be involved in the Games, held here as a demonstration sport.
Malaysia did not win any medals in the 2000 Sydney Olympics and the 2004 Athens Olympics
The Beijing Olympics which hosts 28 sports, featuring 302 events officially opens on Aug 8 and ends on Aug 24.