MALAYSIA’S 28 million people will be rooting for the 32-athlete contingent to end the 60-year wait for the elusive gold medal when the Rio Olympic Games begin here today (Friday in Rio).
Since the 1956 Melbourne Games, Malaysia had recorded a total of six medals with five from badminton and a bronze from diving queen, Pandelela Rinong.
In Rio, the nation has its eyes on badminton star Datuk Lee Chong Wei who is expected to end his bridesmaid role to two-time champion Lin Dan of China in the two previous final in 2008 Beijing and 2012 London Games.
Bidding farewell in his fourth Olympics appearance, the 33- year-old aging icon is all geared up in a do-or-die mission to reap Malaysia’s greatest glory in sport.
However, the road to clinch the elusive gold medal is thorny when he is expected to face his Lin Dan in the semifi nals and once past his nemesis, then it’s Chen Long, another Chinese, the world number two who is tipped to step in the shoes of ‘Super Dan’.
Chong Wei admits feeling more pressure ahead of his final campaign for that elusive Olympic gold medal to cap his stellar career.
“I want to cherish my dreams here,” he told Bernama at the Games Village a few days ago.
Either Lin Din will create history as a triple gold medallist to relegate Chong Wei to a triple silver medallist remains to be seen as Chen Long stands an outside chance to spoil the party for the two most celebrated shuttlers.
Besides ChongWei, the Malaysian contingent also bank hopes on Melbourne-based track cyclist Azizulhasni Awang in the keirin event but it could be a tall order as German’s Joachim Eilers and New Zealander Eddie Dawkins remain hot favourites.
Malaysia’s chef-demission Tan Sri Mohamad Al Amin Abdul Majid feels the pressure to land the nation’s first gold medal and refused to reveal the target despite constant questions.
“I would say, we will do better than the London Olympics with a few surprises in store,” he said.
Whether the surprises could be a better haul or disastrous in Rio will only be seen after the games draw the curtains on Aug 21.
In the backdrop, Pandelela, despite maintaining a low profile in the run up to the games, is touted to end Malaysia’s wait for the gold medal in the 10m individual event.
The Sarawakborn diver has put the country on the aquatic sporting map numerous times since her gold medal plunge at the 2 010 Commonwealth Games in New Delhi.
At the London Olympics four years ago, she became the first woman athlete from Malaysia to stand on an Olympic podium after taking bronze in the 10m platform individual.
This time around could see the 23-year-old lass making the podium for the second time – with a new synchro partner in Cheong Jun Hoong.
The combination’s consistency has enabled them to claim silver at the Diving World Cup in Rio in February and certainly a medal of any colour is not beyond them.
If Pandelela can perform at the decisive moments, then she can be a double medallist in Rio.
Archery comprising trio Khairul Anuar Mohamad, Haziq Kamaruddin and Muhammad Akmal Nor Hasrin is seen as the surprise factor in the men’s team recurve.
However, bursting into the semi-final stage would be considered an achievement as archery giant, South Korea is tipped to win the gold medal and the United States and home team Brazil are up for medal contention.
Golf returns to the Olympics after a 112-year absence with Malaysia’s Danny Chia and Gavin Kyle Green strolling alongside women’s Michelle Koh and Kelly Tan.
Sailor Khairulnizam Mohd Afendy will be attempting his second Olympic campaign after finishing 47 out of 49 sailors in London while it would be the debut for Malaysian women sailor, Nur Shazrin Mohd Latif.
National shooter Jonathan Wong will have to improve his personal best in the 10m and 50m air pistol while national sole weighlifter Mohd Hafifi Mansor is tipped to rewrite his national record in the 69kg category.
In swimming, Welson Sim (of Sarawak) is set to compete in the 200m and 400m freestyle along with Phee Jinq Eng in the women’s 100m breaststroke and Heidi Gan in the women’s marathon swimming.
In athletics, high jumper Nauraj Singh Randhawa will attempt to break his own national mark of 2.29m while wildcard entrant, Zaidatul Husniah Zulkifli is expected to gain exposure in the 100m heats.
Malaysia’s challenge will begin as soon as Chong Wei carries the ‘Jalur Gemilang’ into the historic Maracana Stadium at the opening ceremony.
Malaysians of all races will certainly rally behind the national heroes as they battle for glory at the world’s biggest sporting show on earth. — Bernama