IT may have only been a silver medal, but you would not have guessed it judging by the electrifying reception national shuttler Datuk Lee Chong Wei received upon arrival at KLIA.
Hundreds converged at the arrival area, according him a welcome reserved for a true national hero.
That he failed to deliver the country's first ever Olympic gold is of no consequence, not after he stole the nation's heart on Sunday with a fighting display before going down to Lin Dan 21-15, 10-21, 19-21, in what many describe as one of the most enthralling badminton finals in recent times.
Just two months ago, Chong Wei's dream and that of the nation was nearly dashed after he sustained an ankle injury during the Thomas Cup Finals in Wuhan, China.
Many doubted whether he could even make the trip to London. But they had not reckoned with Chong Wei's fighting spirit as the shuttler pushed himself to better the silver he won at the Beijing Games in 2008.
As the dust settles over his heroics, one question lingers: How much longer will Malaysia depend on Chong Wei to bring glory? Where is the next echelon of world-beaters?
While Malaysia is scraping the barrel for talents, China continues to show that it is on the right track.
While Lin Dan became the first singles player to defend the Olympic gold at the London Games, his probable successor Chen Long, 20, bagged a bronze medal to underline his potential as a future star.
But where are our youngsters? Liew Daren, Chan Kwong Beng, Chong Wei Feng, Misbun Ramdan Misbun, Mohd Arif Abdul Latif, Iskandar Zulkarnain Zainuddin and Zulfadli Zulkifli are some of the top-ranked shuttlers in the back-up squad. But none can come close to Chen Long.
This problem, however, is not one faced by badminton only. It is prevalent in every sport.
In squash, the top management is scrambling to find a replacement for six-time world champion Nicol David. In cycling, no youngster has emerged to give ace rider Azizulhasni Awang a run for his money. In archery, do not be surprised if Cheng Chu Sian makes a bid for a third Olympic appearance.
Something is definitely wrong with our development programmes in tapping young talents at the grassroots level.
Is there a dearth of sporting talent? Is there too much politicking in the associations? Are the national bodies being run professionally? Are the selection of athletes transparent? Have many top officials overstayed their welcome? Or is it simply because our athletes are not as hungry for success as their rivals?
All the above probably apply.
The Government has been pumping in millions to improve the standard of national athletes with not much to show for its efforts. If nothing is done to improve the sports scene in the country, then Malaysians had better cherish Chong Wei's efforts for it may be a long time before we can celebrate the glitter of gold.
Thank God for Chong Wei, Nicol and Azizul!
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