Sports

A final tilt for gold

Malaysia's Lee will carry 
a nation's hopes in Rio

A nation's hopes of Olympic glory can be a burden for the toughest of athletes, but few can know of the pressure on badminton's world No. 1 Lee Chong Wei.

After losing successive gold-medal duels in 2008 in Beijing and the 2012 Games in London, Lee will bid to banish the heartbreak in Rio and end Malaysia's long wait for an Olympic champion.

Nearly a decade at the top has made Lee a star of the sport, but his career has been haunted by agonising near-misses on the world's biggest stages.

China's Lin Dan has been his nemesis, trouncing Lee in the Beijing final and edging him in a nerve-shredding rematch at Wembley Arena in London.

Lee was two points from gold in London, but the Chinese slammed the door shut with three perfectly played points to leave his opponent crushed once again.

Lee's big-match woes have come to embody Malaysia's frustration at the Games. Malaysian athletes have mounted the Olympic podium six times, but never climbed to the top.

Lee meant for London to be his Olympic swansong but, three months shy of his 34th birthday, he will contest his fourth Games where fans will hope for another battle royal with arch-rival Lin.

"(Gold) is not only my dream, but also the dream of all Malaysians," Lee told Malaysian media recently.

"I have to make the best preparation as this is my last Olympics."

His reputation has been stained after he failed a drug test at the 2014 world championships.

He was provisionally suspended in November of that year and faced a potentially career-ending ban after testing positive for dexamethasone, a widely administered anti-inflammatory used to treat asthma and altitude sickness.

Yet the following April, the Badminton World Federation (BWF) controversially handed him a back-dated eight-month ban that allowed him to return to competition a few days after the judgment, convinced by Lee's claim that he had taken the substance inadvertently and had no intention to cheat.

Lee's ranking plummeted outside the top 100 while sidelined, but he has fought back hard over the past year and reclaimed the No. 1 spot from Chinese world champion Chen Long with victory at the Indonesian Open in June.

Lee's Indonesian coach Hendrawan and the Badminton Association of Malaysia have largely kept the shuttler sheltered from the Games hype and also been cagey about the player's fitness after he missed tournaments in Australia and Taiwan last month due to a buttock injury.

But Lee will be front and centre at Rio as Malaysia's flag-bearer at the opening ceremony.

From there, he has "nowhere to hide", Hendrawan admitted.

- Reuters.

Olympicsbadmintonworld No. 1Lee Chong Weimalaysia