KUALA LUMPUR: China have dropped reigning world champion Xia Xuanze from the squad to the Athens Olympic Games.
And that’s one big hurdle out of the way for Malaysia’s number one singles shuttler Wong Choong Hann.
Choong Hann has never beaten the world number five player in his career, losing miserably in eight attempts. In fact, it was Xuanze who spoiled Choong Hann’s debut in the Olympics at Sydney four years ago, beating him in the quarter-finals.
On Wednesday, the China BA named world number one Lin Dan, Bao Chunlai (world number four) and Chen Hong (world number two) for the Games.
There were five qualifiers - Lin Dan, Chunlai, Chen Hong, Xuanze and Chen Yu - in the top 16 at the end of the Olympic qualifying period in May but countries are allowed to send only a maximum of three players.
There was a tussle for the third spot between the two Chinese “veterans” Xuanze, 26 and Chen Hong, 25, who have not been producing the desired results.
In the recent Malaysian Open semi-finals, Chen Hong lost to eventual champion Lee Chong Wei in the semi-finals while Xuanze lost to South Korean Park Sung-hwan.
Xuanze, who was dropped because of an injury, was reportedly upset with the decision by chief coach Li Yongbo.
“My minor injury has not affected my continuous training. I have not been absent from training for any stretch of time and I am feeling good,” he told a local daily.
“I do not think the injury was the reason for my exclusion. But since this is a joint decision of the leadership, I have no problems with it. But life is punctuated with regrets isn’t it?” he said.
The 27-year-old Choong Hann, who returned from Athens after the torch run there, however, does not see Xuanze’s absence as something to shout about.
“When I am in poor form, all my opponents are dangerous to me. I become my worst enemy. I need to get my momentum right in a tournament,” said Choong Hann, who was still sore over his first round defeat by Peter Rasmussen of Denmark in the Malaysian Open.
“Naturally, my chances will be better without Xuanze. I do not have a good playing record against him. But even without him, the Chinese will be fancied for the singles title at the Olympics,” he said.
Choong Hann said that his one-week stay in Athens had raised his passion to win.
“I was demoralised after the Malaysian Open outing. But now I look forward to doing well in the Olympics. The main target is to win a medal,” he said.
“It was a great feeling to be there in Athens. The hosts are still in the midst of some final preparations and all should be ready by next month. The security is tight and we were not allowed to go to the badminton competition venue (Goudi Sports Complex).
“But I am all excited. When I go back there again, I want to make it a memorable outing,” added Choong Hann.
Choong Hann was in Athens with the other Malaysian sports heroes – Datuk Dr M. Jegathesan, Datuk Soh Chin Aun, Nurul Huda Abdullah and Nicol Ann David – to carry the Olympic torch under the “support your team” programme organised by Samsung.
Besides Choong Hann, the other men’s singles players getting ready for the Olympic Games are Mohd Roslin Hashim and Chong Wei.
The only men’s singles player to have won a medal in the Olympics is Rashid Sidek - a bronze at the 1996 Atlanta Games.
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