THE Penang badminton squad for the 17th Malaysia Games (Sukma) in Kangar, Perlis, are exercising caution as they move into the final phase of preparations for the competition.
After a disastrous showing at the 2012 Sukma in Pahang, where the Penang shuttlers failed to win a single medal, the expectations are muted this time around.
Despite sending a strong squad, especially in the men’s events, the Penang Badminton Association are only targeting podium finishes for their players in the Under-21 competition in Kangar.
“After the disappointment of two years ago, winning medals of any colour in Perlis will be considered an improvement for the state badminton.
“We don’t want to place unnecessary pressure on the players by demanding the gold medal. It will be a welcome surprise if they can exceed expectations and produce gold medal performances,” said Penang badminton director of coaching and development Tony Tan.
The best bets for Penang to produce champions in this year’s Sukma are in the men’s team, men’s singles and women’s singles events.
A strong men’s team lineup comprising national back-up players like Goh Giap Chin, Nelson Heg and the recent World Junior Championships quarter-finalist Cheam June Wei are capable of rising to the occasion.
Penang have been drawn in Group B with Perak and Johor, with the group champion progressing to the semi-finals. Giap Chin, who will be featuring in his third Sukma competition, and June Wei also have a fighting chance to get a podium finish in the individual men’s singles category.
“The men’s team have a good chance of progressing to the semi-finals by overcoming both Perak and Johor. We have a strong singles lineup with Giap Chin and June Wei in the team while Nelson and (Lim) Ming Chuen will provide a solid doubles partnership.
“In the individual event, June Wei is on a good run having reached the last eight of the World Juniors while Giap Chin is a seasoned player at the junior level and is capable of pulling off a surprise or two if he gets a favourable draw,” said Tan.
The favourites in the men’s singles competition are former world junior champion Zulfadli Zulkifli (Federal Territory) and former Asian junior champion Soo Teck Zhi (Selangor).
On the women’s side, Tan reckoned that Penang will face an uphill task after being drawn in Group A with the pre-tournament favourites Federal Territory (FT) and Terengganu.
“FT has a strong and balanced squad this year but nothing is impossible. The Penang girls will go all out to try and win their group challenge.
“The field in the women’s singles category is quite even this year, with only Selangor’s Yang Li Lian having a slight edge from the others to win the gold. (Penang’s 14-year-old teen sensation) Goh Jin Wei has beaten most of the older players who will be competing in Perlis, and we will be banking on her to shine in the competition.
“Just like in the men’s singles and doubles, Jin Wei’s chances will depend on the draw, which will only be done two days before the start of the competition.”
The last time Penang won a gold medal in badminton at Sukma was in the 2010 Games in Malacca, when current national women’s No. 1 Tee Jing Yi delivered the women’s singles title.
Penang have never won a Sukma gold medal in the men’s singles, with current world No. 1 Lee Chong Wei coming the closest in the 2002 Games in Sabah. He settled for the silver after losing in the final to Selangor’s Mohd Hafiz Hashim.
The 17th Sukma starts tomorrow and ends on June 3 while the badminton events will commence on Tuesday.
THE PENANG SQUAD
Men: Goh Giap Chin, Cheam June Wei, Tan Jia Wei, Nelson Heg, Lim Ming Chuen, Chua Keh Yeap, Kelvin Ng and Ong Wei Khoon.
Women: Goh Jin Wei, Joyce Choong, Cheah Yee See, Ooi Shi Han, Chua Cheah Lin, Kong Yi Jin, Chew Huey Han and Lee Shun Mei.
Coaches: Deng Lei, Razlan Abdullah and Muhamad Asihin.