GENTING HIGHLANDS: A well-rested Lee Chong Wei can’t wait to get cracking in 2020. No, the 37-year-old Malaysian badminton legend is not making a comeback. He has a bigger job now.
He is looking forward to assuming the role as chef de mission (CDM) of the national contingent to the Tokyo Olympics.
He is going to be more than a chief of mission. He is going to be one of the boys and girls, joining the athletes and shuttlers as they work to stay in shape.
Chong Wei has promised to buff himself up and show up more often at the Academy Badminton Malaysia (ABM) to help the shuttlers leading to the Tokyo Olympics.
“I plan to help out the national training by sparring with the players whenever possible next year. But first, I must build up some muscle and further strengthen my fitness. Skills wise, I never lost any of them (laugh)!” said Chong Wei.
“Apart from training, the more important thing I hope to do is to share my past Olympics experience with the players.
“The Olympic Games is massive for any athlete in the world, so building up mental strength is extremely important.”
Since his retirement in June, Chong Wei has been spending precious time with his family and taking them for holidays – a luxury he could not afford during his playing days.
“It’s time to start working again, ” said a rejuvenated Chong Wei after strutting his stuff at the “Grand Match” at the Arena of Stars here on Saturday.
“There are a lot of things for me to learn if I’m to do a good job in Tokyo. I have only been an athlete all the while, never an official.
“I definitely have to pick up a thing or two about management from people with vast experience, like Datuk Seri Norza (Zakaria, Olympic Council of Malaysia and Badminton Association of Malaysia president).
“He led the contingent to Singapore SEA Games in 2015. But, surely, being the CDM for Olympics cannot be compared to the SEA Games because I’ll be handling a smaller team, probably about 30 members or so. I’m really excited about this new role.”
Asked if the last six months were the happiest moment of his life, Chong Wei was quick to play it down.
“Yes, I’m happy, but I’m also sad at the same time. Sad because I am not able to play competitive badminton anymore. I miss competing so much, ” confessed Chong Wei.
“I still care a lot about the national team and I follow our shuttlers’ progress closely. In fact, I watch them play all the time, right from the World Tour tournaments to the SEA Games, either through television, or live streaming when I am abroad.
“Badminton will always have a special place in my heart regardless, that’s my root.
“I’m also concerned about athletes from other sports. I was very worried with (national track cycling ace) Azizul (Hasni Awang) after his accident at the Track World Cup in Melbourne (two weeks ago).
“He’s one of our Olympics medal prospects, and with seven months to go before the Olympics, the last thing we want to hear is our athletes getting injured.”
Chong Wei was enjoying himself during the three-hour exhibition event, adding that he was well-prepared for the showdown although it was merely a demonstration match.
“It felt like good old days. This is the first time I played badminton since my retirement. I have played badminton nearly every day in my last 25 years, but not the last six months, ” he said.
“But it was effortless. Many people worried that I might not be able to cope with the physical demand.
“When I first agreed to play in the event, I actually started preparing for it two months beforehand, with the help of my wife (former national shuttler Wong Mew Choo).
“Although I have retired, I still work out in the gym two to three times a week to keep myself in shape.”
The athletes at the Olympics had better be on their toes – their chef-de-mission could be showing them a thing or two.
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