LEE Chong Wei’s silver-medal feat in the Beijing Olympics and a triple triumph at the season-ending Super Series Masters Finals were the only real high points for Malaysian badminton in 2008.
If anything, it was a year which highlighted numerous chinks in the armour, with even Chong Wei’s Olympics final showdown against China’s Lin Dan displaying how vast the difference in standard is between the two.
Still, a silver is much better than the medal-less outings of the 2000 and 2004 Olympics and a return on the heavy government-led investment in badminton.
However, it has to be said that in the current climate, Malaysia’s wait for gold may well continue even after the 2012 London Olympics unless reinforcements are found.
Chong Wei is unlikely to repeat his feat and with no solid players emerging as potential replacements, Malaysia are staring at the possibility of having no men’s singles player to rely on.
Chong Wei Feng, Arif Latif, Tan Chun Seang and Liew Daren are nowhere near world class and the BA of Malaysia should be worried.
All are in their early 20s, an age when Chong Wei was already making heads turn and if BAM wants continuity, it must pay more attention to the younger players.
They must be given adequate chances to impress and if they fail, new players must be brought in.
National singles coach Misbun Sidek has worked wonders with Chong Wei but he must be taken out of his comfort zone and given new challenges.
For Chong Wei, his personal target next year should not only be to end Lin Dan’s dominance but also keep an eye on the emergence of new talent from China’s reservoir of players.
BAM, perhaps, isn’t too worried about the lack of quality singles players due to the strong men’s doubles but it will be unwise to place high hopes on the pairs.
Undoubtedly, national coach Rexy Mainaky has several pairs with potential but inconsistency remains a major problem.
Koo Kien Keat-Tan Boon Heong spent the entire year in wretched form, climaxed by their failure in Beijing, but showed glimpses of their potential by beating Olympic champions Markis Kido-Hendra Setiawan twice in the last two months.
The Indonesians ended Kien Keat-Boon Heong’s Beijing adventure in the last eight.
But Kien Keat-Boon Heong, who set the badminton world alight with their swashbuckling style in the first half of 2007, have the talent but need to stay on the right track if they are to clinch the world title in India next year.
Zakry Latif-Faiuzizuan Tazari, at best, can only be termed as occasionally brilliant and this was seen when they won back-to-back the Singapore and Indonesia Super Series titles.
But that was just about it and Rexy surely knows he has to also focus on others to ensure Malaysian doubles had a bright future.
There are at least another four pairs who have the potential to be world class and Rexy must start paying them more attention.
Women’s doubles Wong Pei Tty-Chin Eei Hui ended the year refreshingly by winning the Denmark Open and Masters Finals.
They reached four Super Series finals since the Olympics but the question is, what is there after them?
Ranked World No 2 now, Pei Tty, 27 and Eei Hui, 26, are capable of holding on until the 2010 Asian Games but the future will be bleak if replacements are not identified soon.
There is some promise in Ng Hui Lin-Goh Liu Ying but their development will depend on BAM as it needs to expose them.
Other pairs should also be found and BAM must also focus on the mixed doubles in the bid to win medals in the 2012 Olympics.
As for women’s singles Wong Mew Choo, her career looks set to be ended by injuries and the emphasis should now be on Julia Wong and Lydia Cheah in order for Malaysia to, at least, challenge for honours at the Sea Games and Commonwealth Games.
For BAM, Chong Wei’s silver triumph was rewarded by Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak’s full support for a RM24-million academy in Taman Maluri, Kuala Lumpur, and that should motivate BAM to find the next generation of players.