Friday, December 3

Zii Jia downplays Olympic hopes after All England win

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KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysian badminton star Lee Zii Jia downplayed expectations Thursday that he could win the country’s first Olympic gold in Tokyo following his breakthrough victory at the All England Open.

The 22-year-old defeated Denmark’s Viktor Axelsen 30-29, 20-22, 21-9 at the weekend to win the All England, one of the sport’s most prestigious tournaments, for the first time.

On his way to victory, he also beat two-time world champion Kento Momota, and is now seen as Malaysia’s best hope to win Olympic gold at the Tokyo Games this summer.

Malaysian badminton legend Datuk Lee Chong Wei came achingly close to winning gold but never achieved it, picking up three Olympic silvers during his career.

But on Thursday, Zii Jia brushed off questions about his chances of bringing home Malaysia’s first gold from Tokyo.

“I just want to (go) step by step,” he told a press conference.

“So far, the progress is going well, so I don’t want to put too much pressure on myself.

“I just want to enjoy the game and try my best in every match.”

He also downplayed suggestions that he is the heir to Chong Wei, who was one the greatest players of his generation until his retirement in 2019.

“I just want to be myself, and not (be compared) with Lee Chong Wei,” said the younger Lee.

“His achievement is unbreakable, his record is unbreakable, he’s a legend. I have my own journey.”

Badminton Association of Malaysia (BAM) president Tan Sri Norza Zakaria meanwhile assured that there will be no additional pressure for Zii Jia to deliver at the Tokyo Games.

He said it was too early to set such a lofty target as their aim was for the shuttlers to go for the gold at the 2024 Olympics in Paris, France.

“Looking at the improvement made by Zii Jia, of course we want him to continue to do his best and, at least, try to win a medal in Tokyo.

“We do not want to put undue pressure on him because I think every player dreams of winning the gold or any other medal at the Olympics, especially in Tokyo,” he said on Bernama TV’s Podium 360 programme with Hilmy Ashley.

Norza said that he was impressed with Zii Jia’s fighting spirit at the All England to silence his critics following a mediocre start to the year.

He was also glad that Zii Jia, who is from Alor Setar, Kedah, did not let the continuous criticism affect him but instead used it as a lesson and a challenge to improve himself.

Meanwhile, Norza expressed confidence that SEA Games gold medallist S. Kisona would be able to rise again after a string of dismal performance so far this year, with the latest setback being her first-round exit at the All England, going down tamely 6-21, 7-21 to Thailand’s Busanan Ongbamrungphan.

He also believes that two-time world junior champion Goh Jin Wei, who struggled with injuries for several years, would be able to show her mettle again when she competes in the Orleans Masters Badminton Championships in France this week.

“We want our players to be at the highest level in the world and we hope that others will follow in Zii Jia’s footsteps so that we will continue to be a major force on the international stage,” he said. — Agencies