Zii Jia can learn from three legends who fell short in their debuts

Not short on inspiration: Lee Zii Jia has a chance to join the league of extraordinary shuttlers like (inset from top) Lee Chong Wei, Lin Dan and Taufik Hidayat who went on to win medals after unimpressive starts.

PETALING JAYA: What do badminton legends – Lee Chong Wei, Lin Dan and Taufik Hidayat - have in common?

All three of them fell short in their Olympics debuts before returning stronger for the next ones.

There is a chance for Lee Zii Jia to join their league after crashing out early in his first Olympics in Tokyo on Thursday.

Taufik went to Sydney 2000 as the top seed but was ousted in the quarter-finals. Four years later, he made amends in Athens by winning the gold.

Lin Dan did the same prior to his back-to-back triumphs in Beijing 2008 and London 2012. He entered Athens 2004 as the overwhelming favourite, only to be shockingly sent packing by Singapore’s Ronald Susilo in the first round.

When Chong Wei failed to impress in his maiden Games in Athens, little did he know that he would go on to win silvers in the next three editions.

The 23-year-old Zii Jia can certainly take heart despite coming up short in his ambitious bid to land a medal in his first attempt in Tokyo.

Seasoned campaigner Chong Wei has called on Zii Jia to keep his chin up following his 21-18, 19-21, 5-21 defeat in the last 16 at the hands of reigning champion Chen Long of China.

“It’s okay for him to feel down, that’s normal because he’s an ambitious man who’s eager to achieve something great in his career at the Olympics,” said Chong Wei, who’s also the Malaysian contingent’s chef de mission.

“This is not the result that he had hoped for, but he has to accept it and move on. The whole nation saw how he played. He has done his best and no one can fault him for his effort.

“He can now afford a short break, but once he returns home and completes his quarantine, it’s time to get back to the grind.

“The invaluable experience he gained from the first Olympics will help him to manage the next Games better.

“After all, the Paris Olympics is just three years away. He should get cracking as soon as possible.

“There’s still plenty of tournaments coming up and one of them being the World Championships (in Huelva in December). There’s still so much to look forward to.”

Chong Wei has refused to draw comparisons between him and Zii Jia although the latter returned home empty-handed just like him.

In his debut, Chong Wei, who was 22, battled gallantly before going down 11-15, 15-3, 12-15 to Chen Hong of China in the last 16.

“The script was nearly identical. I was about the same age as Zii Jia and I also exited at the last-16 stage too after a hard-fought battle with Chen Hong,” said Chong Wei.

“But I don’t think we can make any comparisons here. Zii Jia has got a lot more pressure than I do in the first Olympics. Not only that he’s the nation’s sole challenger, he also competed with the reputation as the All-England champion.

“When I went to Athens, I was not targeted to win a medal. I also wasn’t ranked highly at that time, if I’m not mistaken I was the world No. 16. Ahead of me were seniors (Wong) Choong Hann and Roslin (Hashim), they were the ones expected to deliver.”

On former rival Chen Long, Chong Wei said the two-time world champion’s classy performance did not surprise him.

“Chen Long has prepared well. He’s also driven by possibly his last Olympics appearance,” he said.

“The main reasons he prevailed over Zii Jia were because he was calm and collected. That’s what vast experience can do for a seasoned player like him.”

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