Some say it was the jinx of Najib and wife Rosmah which had denied the country of its first-ever gold medal in the 2016 Rio Olympic Games. Auntie Rosy and PM Najib should not have had sent letters and messages of congratulation to Malaysian badminton players before the game ends. As a result, the badminton players didn’t get the gold in the final.
Some say the failure of Malaysia in bringing its first-ever Olympic gold is a blessing in disguise. If mixed-doubles pair Chan Peng Soon-Goh Liu Ying, men’s doubles pair Goh V Shem-Tan Wee Kiong or men’s single Lee Chong Wei managed a gold(s), narcissist PM Najib and publicity-crazy Rosmah will definitely ride on the success and claim credit.
Some say Malaysia badminton depends too much on luck at the expense of mental preparation. Some say Lee Chong Wei, who got his “Datukship” in 2008, lost to China’s Chen Long because his “Datukship” has been diluted of its “magic power” after too many people (including criminals) bought the supposedly prestigious title.
For those who hadn’t heard the joke, the story goes that Lee Chong Wei only managed to beat Chinese badminton players after he was conferred the “Datukship”. By adding the title to his name, the initial becomes DLCW (Datuk Lee Chong Wei) – “Don’t Let China Win” – after it was discovered that his original initial of LCW was not prosperous because it meant “Let China Win”.
Regardless of the urban legend and superstition, the fact remains that Malaysia’s dream of getting its first-ever Olympic gold has now ended, behind Vietnam and Singapore who had gotten theirs at the 2016 Rio. With mixed-doubles pair, men’s doubles pair and men’s single in the final, Rio had presented 3 golden opportunities for the country to snatch at least a gold.
Unfortunately, that didn’t happen. So, is there something wrong with the country’s badminton system, assuming there was one to begin with? There’s little doubt that all the players have played to their best. But that doesn’t mean everything’s coming up roses. Let’s call a spade a spade. All Malaysian badminton players have one glaring problem – mental toughness.
Mixed-doubles pair Chan Peng Soon-Goh Liu Ying managed to enters the final primarily because they had played their normal games without thinking too much about getting to the final. When they finally did, the pressure – from fans, coaches and even politicians – started trickling. Congratulation notes and encouragement tweets turned into psychology pressure.
Prior to entering the final, World No. 11 Chan Peng Soon-Goh Liu Ying successfully demolished World No. 6 Xu Chen-Ma Jin and even World No. 1 Zhang Nan-Zhao Yunlei, both pairs from China. Against World No. 3 Tontowi Ahmad-Liliyana Natsir, clearly Peng Soon-Liu Ying was not as focus as the Indonesian pair, hence made some mistakes.
Likewise, World No. 12 Goh V Shem-Tan Wee Kiong lost to World No. 4 Fu Haifeng-Zhang Nan of China in the men’s doubles for another gold opportunity. Before the final, the Malaysian pair stunned world No. 1 Lee Yong-dae-Yoo Yeon-seong of South Korea in the quarter-finals and World No. 5 Chai Biao-Hong Wei of China in the last four.
Can you see the pattern here? The Malaysian players Chan Peng Soon-Goh Liu Ying and Goh V Shem-Tan Wee Kiong had no problem smashing their way to victories when facing superior pairs, including the World No. 1. Upon entering the finals, somehow they would make mistakes and lose concentration – their eagerness for gold prevented them from playing a calm and control game.
As mentioned, the sooner the first-ever gold could be won, the better it would be for the remaining matches. There were 3 final matches with 3 gold medals for grab, but Malaysian badminton team had failed in all the matches. As first pair couldn’t break the curse, the pressure snowballed to the second pair, and subsequently to the last man standing – Lee Chong Wei.
The match between Lee Chong Wei and Lin Dan was absolutely magnificent. Both players took their turn accumulating a point at a time in a nail-biting match which can easily be recorded as one of the best badminton game ever. Heck, it got so tense that a senior citizen, 64-year-old Lum Wah Wong, died of a heart attack while watching the semi-final match.
At the end, Malaysian Lee Chong Wei won the match but not before taking its toll on him. Too bad it wasn’t a final match otherwise Malaysia would have gotten its first-ever gold. It was a personal rivalry between Chong Wei and Lin Dan. Both players were clearly exhausted, so much so that Lin Dan even lost to Denmark’s Viktor Axelsen in the bronze-medal play-off.
Sure, Chong Wei won a battle but he also lost a war. This may be wishful thinking but if only Malaysia has its own Chen Long, the country could win its first-ever gold. Here’s where the problem screams “more talents”. Unlike Malaysia, China does not rely on one single player like Lin Dan. They’ve backup players whose gap of talents aren’t miles apart.
Chong Wei might be World No. 1, but there’s only so much he can do in a major competition. After his quest against Lin Dan, his body started crumbling against World No. 2 Chen Long. Chen’s strength in the first game was his ability to keep mistake to a minimum, forcing the tired and drained Chong Wei to make mistakes instead by his ferocious smashes.
The point is: Malaysia fails to get its first-ever gold since 1964 when the country (or Malaya in 1956) participated at the Olympic Games not because Chong Wei sucks but due to its system. Without backup players, Chong Wei was forced to battle not one but two Great Walls of China. Obviously, 33-year-old Chong Wei couldn’t match the younger and strongly built 27-year-old Chen Long.
Technically speaking, Lee Chong Wei is the single point of failure (SPOF). Badminton Association of Malaysia needs to produce not only quality but also quantity of players. Hypothetically speaking, if there was a younger Chong Wei in the semi-final, he could have stopped Chen Long and the final match could be between two players from Malaysia.
Would men’s doubles pair Goh V Shem-Tan Wee Kiong had a better chance if mixed doubles pair Chan Peng Soon-Goh Liu Ying delivered the country’s first-ever gold played earlier? Perhaps the answer can be found from Chen Long. The new Olympic gold medalist admits he owed his victory to China’s men’s double pair who defeated Malaysian pairs.
“Yesterday I saw my colleagues win the gold medal and that really inspired me when I came out to play in the final. The reason I won today has everything to do with them.” – said Chen Long. Of course, he was trying to be humble as he played not only an aggressive game against Lee Chong Wei; he also knew how to control the game with precision especially at the net.
Still, Chong Wei’s accomplishment in bringing 3 silver Olympic medals home is itself a record which could be very hard to break. Perhaps he is never fated to win an Olympic gold medal. Perhaps his “Datukship” should be renewed before a major competition. Perhaps Najib Razak and Rosmah Mansor should not interfere in badminton at all. But it’s water under the bridge now.
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