MALAYSIA’S position as one of the world’s best badminton nations is rather hollow when one considers the fact that we are the only nation in the Big Five — China, Indonesia, South Korea and Denmark being the others — who have yet to win a world or Olympic title.
China have dominated the Olympics and the World Championships consistently while Indonesia too have a great history at badminton’s major events.
The Koreans — almost always — rise to the occasion in the Olympics and World Championships while Denmark not only have had several world champions but also an Olympic gold medallist in Poul Erik Hoyer Larsen, who won the men’s singles in Atlanta ’96.
England, Japan and the United States — hardly powerhouses in badminton — have also won world titles while for Malaysia, it has been a case of always the bridesmaid since the inaugural edition 32 years ago.
Men’s doubles Razif and Jalani Sidek were the first to falter in 1987 when they lost to China’s Li Yongbo-Tian Bingyi in the men’s doubles final and this was followed by Cheah Soon Kit’s double failure.
Soon Kit and Soo Beng Kiang were favourites to capture the title but the Indonesian scratch pair of Ricky Subagja-Gunawan shocked them in 1993 while new pair Candra Wijaya-Sigit Budiarto denied Soon Kit-Yap Kim Hock in 1997.
Wong Choong Hann held a struggling Xia Xuanze of China by his throat in the third game of the final only to allow the latter to snatch the men’s singles crown in 2003.
It has been the same at the Olympics and Malaysia has to wait till 2012 for the next shot at gold after Lee Chong Wei found Lin Dan too hot to handle in Beijing last year.
Before that, Soon Kit-Kim Hock allowed Ricky Subagja-Rexy Mainaky of Indonesia to take the Atlanta ’96 doubles gold.
But if we have to wait till 2012 for Olympic gold, the wait for a World Championships title can, and must, end in Hyderabad, India this year.
In fact, the actual date when the wait must end is Aug 16, the final day of the World Championships.
Malaysia have the players — though they have wilted several times before — with Chong Wei and men’s doubles Koo Kien Keat-Tan Boon Heong the best hopes.
No doubt, Chong Wei has to deal with China’s Lin Dan but if the shuttler wants to be remembered as a true great, he has to slay his nemesis.
Sure, there will be pressure but it will be the same, if not greater, for Lin Dan as he will be chasing his fourth consecutive major title — having won the world crown in 2006 and 2007 and the Olympic gold last year.
Surely, Lin Dan’s hunger won’t be as intense as before while Chong Wei should be really hungry, having had to settle for second best in the Olympics. In fact, this could be Chong Wei’s last chance to win a major title as, even if he takes care of himself, the 2012 Olympic gold looks out of reach.
Kien Keat-Boon Heong still have time on their side but they too need to win the world title this year if they want to regain the fearsome reputation they had in 2007.
Olympic and world champions Markis Kido-Hendra Setiawan of Indonesia are in a similar position to that of Lin Dan and, really, they are no match for Kien Keat-Boon Heong when the Malaysians are at their best.
The fact that Kien Keat-Boon Heong hold a 7-2 win-lose record against Markis-Hendra is proof of that.
If anything, the biggest challenge will come from South Koreans Jung Jae Sung-Lee Yong Dae, who are also chasing their first major crown.
But Kien Keat-Boon Heong have shown before they can take on the best in the world and if they remain focused, the Koreans too will be slain and Malaysia can then say we deserve to be among the Big Five.