IN the end, Chinese shuttler Chen Long defeated our Datuk Lee Chong Wei in the men's badminton finals at the 2016 Olympics in Rio De Janeiro.
It was almost a fairy tale ending for Lee Chong Wei. He defeated his nemesis and friend Lin Dan in the semi-finals, to avenge his defeat four years ago in London. Malaysians started to believe that at last, this would be the year that the Negaraku was played at the Olympics. It would have been a sweet ending to what has already been our best-ever medal haul in the Olympics.
Alas, it was not meant to be. Despite Chong Wei giving it his all, Chen Long was simply the better player on the day.
In these trying times for the country, when we are facing so many challenges, when we are so fractured and divided by our fault lines, sports seem to be the only thing that can unite us.
Sports has always been a great unifying factor for any country. The multi-ethnic French national team that won the World Cup in 1998 united a fractious France at that particular point in time. It was a similar story in South Africa. The Springboks' victory at the Rugby World Cup in 1995 managed to unite the nation, wrecked by decades of apartheid.
The support given to our men and women competing at this year's Olympics cuts across barriers. Every time our athletes competed, the nation comes together to cheer them on.
The names of Pandalela Rinong, Cheong Jun Hoong, Azizulhasni Awang, Chan Peng Soon, Goh Liu Ying, Goh V Shem and Tan Wee Kiong will be etched in the annals of our sporting history.
You have probably experienced it yourself. The collective joy whenever our athletes advanced to the next stage of the competition, the pain and agony when they are defeated. On social media or in mamak restaurants, in viewing parties across the country, for those oh-so-brief moments, we are truly one.
I wrote in 2012, for this very same column, about how Chong Wei's final match in the men's badminton finals united Malaysians, even in defeat. This year, he and the other Malaysian Olympians, have once again done that.
Where do we go from here? Do we go back to seeing each through racial and religious lens, when for a period we saw our athletes only as Malaysians? Or can we build the unity that we achieved over the past few days?
We could not do so in 2012 after Chong Wei's final match against Lin Dan. We have been presented with the same opportunity. Will we squander it again?
This is Chong Wei's final Olympics appearance. We will never again see this great servant of the nation compete at the most prestigious sporting event. That thought alone should fill us with sadness. It is the end of an era.
After the medal presentation ceremony, Chong Wei was interviewed by a reporter. Barely able to hold back his tears, faced etched with agony, Chong Wei apologised to Malaysians for not being able to bring back the gold.
He has nothing to be sorry about. The fact of the matter with his three silver medals, is our best and most-decorated Olympian. One of the greatest athletes to ever represent Malaysia in any sporting event.
Thank you Datuk. For all that you have done for this country. And most of all, for making us proud to be Malaysians.
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