Many of us made sure we were in front of the TV last Sunday night for this was a rare occasion for a nation so deprived of success in sports. Lee Chong Wei, our world no. 2 was playing Lin Dan, world no. 1 for the Olympic gold in badminton. This was indeed our best chance to finally break the duck. Despite the head to head statistics in favour of the Chinese, their last match was only in May, in the Thomas Cup, where Chong Wei had won.
Even if one was not a Malaysian, the prospect of the match was mouthwatering to any sports purist. Sports thrive on rivalries and good rivalries make for great viewing. Think Federer and Nadal, Ali and Frazier, Carl Lewis and Ben Johnson (before the drugs).
As a Malaysian we all want to just finally nail an Olympics gold medal. After all our neighbouring countries have been there before. Indonesia landed 2 gold medals in the 1992 Barcelona Olympics with Susi Susanti and Alan Budikusuma winning their badminton singles golds. Somluck Kamsing delivered Thailand’s first ever gold medal in the featherweight category of boxing in the 1996 Atlanta Olympics.
This year both countries already have struck gold. Thailand by a petite lady with an impossibly long name Prapawadee Jaroenrattanatarakoon in weightlifting (53 kg featherweight) while Indonesia by Markis Kido and Hendra Setiawan (in men’s badminton doubles). Great achievements for Thailand and Indonesia.
So while the Chinese juggernaut continues to roll and our Asean neighbours already producing world beating athletes, the weight on Chong Wei’s shoulders was not inconsiderable that night.
But as it panned out it became clear that Lin Dan played like he believed that the gold was his destiny and Chong Wei was made to look a pale shadow of his true potential.
After the match my kids asked me why did the match end so quickly. Last month we all sat around the TV to watch another match between the world’s no. 1 and 2 players where “edge of the seat” was an understatement; for more than five hours no one could say at any point whether Nadal or Federer was going to win the Wimbledon final. Later in the same month we saw Nicole David winning the Malaysian Open where she played like a woman possessed.
It was hard to give a satisfactory answer to my kids other than to say it is about self belief. At the level Chong Wei is already playing, no coach could teach him any new tricks in badminton. He is already an awesome player technically (see how he took apart Lee Hyun-il in the semis) but he needs to believe he is destined to win. In Lin Dan’s blog right after winning the gold he said he believes he will now win all the major titles in badminton. Cocky or self belief?
Malaysia lost to a better man no doubt. We were denied gold again. Others who saw the final were denied what could have been a great match between two great rivals.
Maybe we’ve all heard this mantra before; dream the impossible, believe the unbelievable and never take no for an answer. Could that be the one thing missing from Chong Wei’s game that night?