Kuala Lumpur: August 31, 2020, marked Malaysia’s 63rd Independence Day, and the Malaysian badminton legend Lee Chong Wei took to his social media page to share an interesting and inspiring story as he recalled his memories of being the flag-bearer for Malaysia at the 2016 Rio Olympics.
“Chong Wei! Stop being so naughty! Go raise the flag!” That’s the punishment I always got from my disciplinarian teacher during my early secondary school days when we were caught laughing during the severely boring daily school assembly. While some of my cohorts were laughing sheepishly in their line, I would have to tie the flag correctly to the pole, and slowly raised it up during the anthem. Sometimes I admit, I used to raise it up even before the first half of the anthem ended, to see the crowd burst into laughter and to see the veins of the head of my angry headmistress!
Fast forward twenty years . On a sunny morning in Rio de Janiero. 5th August 2016. We went to the Riocentro Pavilion to have our venue familiarization. I was pretty hyped up. I knew I have to beat Lin Dan and Chen Long to win gold. I requested Hendrawan to increase the intensity that morning. Seu Bock was serving the shuttle to Hendrawan and another sparring partner for them to rain smashes at me. Defending one of the shots, I lost my grip and my racquet hit my left hand.
Team doctor came and luckily it was not broken. But it was pretty sore and I couldn’t lift my left hand. Doctor advised to wrap in ice bags the whole night and hopefully the sore will be gone the next day.
Evening came. The whole Malaysian Olympic went into the Maracana stadium, dressed sharply in our national costumes. We lined up behind the Madagascar team. Someone then brought in our Jalur Gemilang. Our CDM Tan Sri Mohamed Al Amin Abd Majid then pointed to my direction, for me being the flagbearer. I grabbed the pole. “Oh my God !” I let go a silent shout! Little did I knew it was that heavy! I felt so ashamed. My left hand really felt a sharp pain.
Some of my teammates saw my grimace. “Chong Wei, just rest! Let others hold the flag”, one teammate advised. I was fighting in my mind. My upcoming tournament is important, but so is my flag. My teammates all went silent. I could see into their eyes. They wanted me to carry the flag. Then one official Muhaimin came to me and woke me up “Chong Wei, my son is waiting to see you to carry the flag in.” I knew I couldn’t disappoint them. I asked Seu Bock to bring me an invisible tape and tied the pole to my hands, providing extra support during the march-in.
Holding the pole in front of the line waiting to march in, a Madagascar athlete from the group in front had a small chat with me. He asked “You have a nice flag there, Mr Lee. Ours is more simple. Why is the complexity?”
My pride burst out suddenly. “This is no normal flag, my friend. This a symbol of unity of a great family. This is my country. This is a place where smiles and happiness happen for the simplest reason. This is my family. This is my home.”
The rest is history. You might notice the watery eyes in the photo. No more due to the pain in the left hand. Only tears of pride. I carried the flag proudly in the march in. Carrying in the flag. Carrying in the hope of my Malaysia. Carrying in the smiles of my 31 million big family. Carrying in … my home.
Happy 63rd Birthday, Malaysia.”
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, there will be no marches, parades, mass gatherings, or outdoor celebrations for this year’s Malaysia Independence Day.