PETALING JAYA: With the Tokyo Olympics in August looming as the biggest sporting mission for Malaysian athletes, this will be a year of reckoning for singles shuttler Lee Zii Jia and doubles pair Aaron Chia-Soh Wooi Yik.
There can be no more excuses about the SEA Games gold medal-winning trio needing more time and still being on a learning curve. They have to start delivering the goods, with Lee Chong Wei no longer around to carry the flag.Chong Wei, the only Malaysian athlete to win three Olympic silver medals, retired last year, and the Malaysian badminton scene needs a new hero to take up the mantle.
The least the fans would expect from the three young guns – arguably the country’s brightest prospects at the moment – is to reach the finals of World Tour tournaments regularly, if not actually winning them.
Zii Jia has not been able to build on the back-to-back finals he achieved when he won the Taiwan Open and finished second at the Korean Masters, while Aaron-Wooi Yik, too, could not replicate the same kind of display that saw them sensationally fighting their way to the All-England final.
Despite being earmarked to contend for gold at the 2024 Paris Olympics, they must try to capitalise on their Olympic debut appearance if they are to qualify for the Tokyo Games.
Zii Jia is a shoo-in, barring any unforeseen circumstances, as 2018 World Championships’ bronze medallist Liew Daren’s hopes to get ahead of Zii Jia in the battle for the men’s singles spot is fading fast.
The same can’t be said for Aaron-Wooi Yik as they find themselves in a fierce fight with independent shuttlers and 2016 Rio Olympic silver medallists Goh V Shem-Tan Wee Kiong for the men’s doubles berth.
Unless both can finish among the world’s top eight ranking at the end of the Race to Tokyo one-year qualification period by April, there can be only one pair going to Tokyo.
The recently concluded Philippines SEA Games also saw the emergence of a bright new star in rhythmic gymnastics.
Izzah Amzan, 19, is making her presence felt in the scene after winning two golds in the ribbon and ball finals in the SEA Games.
Amidst the hullabaloo over the judging, the pint-sized Izzah was composed and calm. Her temperament, especially at her age, is admirable and one will surely expect the Bukit Jalil Sports School student to flourish.
In football, all eyes will also be on national Under-19 striker Luqman Hakim Shamsudin as he embarks on a dream move in 2020. The 17-year-old aims to make his mark in Europe.
Luqman wants to forget his disastrous outing at the Philippines SEA Games with the national Under-22 team by impressing in his stint with Cardiff City before linking up with his new club KV Kortrjik in Belgium.
Luqman will sign a five-year deal with KV Kortrjik when he turns 18 next March, thanks to Malaysian business mogul Tan Sri Vincent Tan, who owns the Belgian club.
In track cycling, Mohd Shah Firdaus Sahrom has his eye on an Olympic ticket to Tokyo.The 24-year-old is training alongside Azizulhasni Awang in the Melbourne base and looks to be the best prospect to carry the torch for Malaysian track cycling if his illustrious teammate decides to call it a day.
Shah Firdaus has made it to the podium in the Track World Cup, Asian Cycling Championships and Asian Games.