A look at Malaysian badminton's history at the Olympics and their chances in Tokyo

Lee Chong Wei is a three-time silver medallist at the Olympics
Lee Chong Wei is a three-time silver medallist at the Olympics
Sudeshna Banerjee

Malaysian badminton's success at the Olympics has been spearheaded by the legendary Lee Chong Wei. The now-retired former world No. 1 brought home three silver medals, which is 37.5% of the nation's total tally of 8 medals.

With six silver and two bronze medals from the Olympics, the Asian country is in seventh place in the badminton medal table.

Malaysian badminton's history at the Olympics

Despite its dominance through Lee Chong Wei, Malaysia has one glaring miss β€” a gold medal. Had it not been for the countless heartbreaks suffered by Chong Wei, Malaysia would have won a coveted gold medal by now.

Other than the 38-year-old, the only other singles shuttler whom Malaysian badminton could pin hopes on was Rashid Sidek. But he too faltered in Atlanta and had to settle for bronze.

Lee and Sidek are so far the only singles medallists from the nation at the Olympics, combining for four medals. The remaining four medals came in doubles, with the 2016 Rio Olympics going on to become the most successful edition for Malaysian badminton. Along with Lee Chong Wei's men's singles silver, the country also bagged silver medals in men's doubles (Goh V Shem/Tan Wee Kiong) and mixed doubles (Chan Peng Soon/Goh Liu Ying).

On that note, let us take an in-depth look at Malaysia's two singles stars at the Olympics and the country's prospects at Tokyo:

#1 Lee Chong Wei: 3 silver medals (Beijing, London, Rio Olympics)

Lee Chong Wei
Lee Chong Wei

Malaysian badminton is pretty much synonymous with Lee Chong Wei. The shuttle wizard took the sport to unprecedented heights and remained the country's torch-bearer for nearly two decades.

From the Asian Games to the Commonwealth Games to the Asian Championships, Lee conquered them all. His exploits took him to the pinnacle of the world rankings, where he reigned for 349 weeks that included a 199-week streak.

But it was his silver medal at the Beijing Olympics that transformed him into a national icon. It was the first time any Malaysian shuttler had reached the men's singles final, sparking nationwide hopes of earning their first-ever badminton gold.

Even though Lee went on to lose the final to Chinese nemesis Lin Dan, the result cemented his place among the pantheon of sporting greats. The accomplishment brought him the title Datuk, inspiring the next generation of shuttlers.

Chong Wei went on to reach the men's singles final at London and Rio too, but couldn't barge through the Chinese wall, falling to Lin Dan and Chen Long respectively.

Throughout his glittering career, Lee gave several examples of his hunger and willpower. A suspension in 2014 could not derail his career. A cancer diagnosis, too, could not dim his spirits. After trying a number of times to return to the sport that he so loved, Lee Chong Wei finally brought the curtains on his 19-year-long career in 2019.

#2 Rashid Sidek - 1 bronze medal (Atlanta Olympics)

Rashid Sidek
Rashid Sidek

Rashid Sidek belonged to Lee Chong Wei's earlier generation. Currently a coach, the Selangor-born Sidek opened the gateway to glory for Malaysian badminton in the 1990s.

One of his most notable achievements was making a key contribution to Malaysia's Thomas Cup win in 1992. Sidek's efforts fetched the Asian nation their last Thomas Cup title to date.

1996 was the red-letter year of Sidek's career, where he returned to reckoning after losing his way in between. The prized Olympic medal was the cherry on top of a season that saw him win the German Open and the Asia Cup, besides reaching the final of the All England Open.

At the Atlanta Olympics, even though Sidek put up a masterclass to upset the top seed Joko Suprianto of Indonesia, China's Dong Jiong dashed his gold medal hopes in the semifinals. Sidek refused to let it dishearten him and mustered all his courage to take down former world champion Heryanto Arbi in the bronze medal play-off.

Sidek also added gold medals from the Commonwealth Games and the Asian Championships to climb to the top of the world rankings before switching to coaching.

Lee Zii Jia - Malaysia's biggest singles prospect at Tokyo Olympics

Lee Zii Jia
Lee Zii Jia

Lee Zii Jia has taken over the baton of Malaysia's men's singles badminton since Lee Chong Wei's retirement and looks a strong contender for a medal at the Tokyo Olympics.

The 23-year-old burst into the spotlight after winning a bronze medal at the World Junior Championships in 2016. He tasted glory on the BWF World Tour for the first time at the Chinese Taipei Open in 2018.

However, financial difficulties and a lack of fitness affected his growth. It was finally in 2020 that he started showing glimpses of his talent at the highest level. On his debut at the All England Open, he made it to the semifinals that propelled his career ranking into the top-10.

A year later, he returned to the same venue to turn the tables on Viktor Axelsen in a marathon final to win the biggest title of his fledgling career. The astonishing 30-29, 20-22, 21-9 win over the Dane underlines his exceptional fighting skills and his never-say-die attitude.

The qualities would help him immensely at the Tokyo Olympics, for which he is assured to qualify at the moment, being in ninth place in the rankings. Come August, Lee will leave no stone unturned as he tries to end Malaysia's long wait for an elusive badminton gold medal at the Olympics.

Edited by Sankalp Srivastava
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