Ever since badminton was introduced at the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona, Spain, only six Malaysians have featured in the men’s singles event, usually drawing the biggest attention.
Foo Kok Keong and Rashid Sidek, who were part of the 1992 Thomas Cup winning team, first carried the men’s singles baton in that edition, before it was passed on to Ong Ewe Hock, Wong Choong Hann, Roslin Haslim and Lee Chong Wei.
Another Lee, in Zii Jia, is the latest Malaysian to carry that honour at the upcoming Tokyo Olympics (July 23-August 8).
Not only as a mere participant, but as a genuine medal contender, Zii Jia will head to the biggest stage of all having captured the most prestigious title this year when he delivered the All-England Championships in March, beating top names such as Kento Momota and Viktor Axelsen.
Other top-tier events were immediately put on hold right after due to the pandemic, with the India, Malaysia and Singapore Opens all postponed due to rising number of cases in the respective nations.
With every shuttler preparing individually without having much insight on their potential opponents, Zii Jia put it down as something everyone should come to accept.
“Firstly, I am just thrilled to have qualified for my first Olympics. This was my target when I came into the national setup and I am delighted to have fulfilled this dream. It is the biggest stage, and not everyone gets a chance.
“My preparations are ongoing, with plenty of support from the coaches and support staff. It is tough to prepare sometimes [without many tournaments], but I have been given great support by the team. Others are in the same boat too.
“It is a challenge for sure, but it is something I think everyone has come to accept,” he said.
All the Olympic-bound shuttlers are currently training under a quarantine bubble at the Academy Badminton Malaysia (ABM), since the Movement Control Order was implemented earlier this month.
This means the shuttlers are not allowed to leave the ABM at all, and will remain there until they depart for Tokyo a week before the Olympics begin.
Soniia Cheah (women’s singles), Chan Peng Soon-Goh Liu Ying (mixed doubles), Chow Mei Kuan-Lee Meng Yean (women’s doubles) and Aaron Chia-Soh Wooi Yik (men’s doubles) are the rest of the national contingent heading to Tokyo.