PETALING JAYA: Malaysia has produced world champions in diving and cycling but a question mark hangs over whether the agonising wait for a first Olympic gold medal can end in Tokyo a year from now.
Our contingent can no longer depend on recently retired shuttler Lee Chong Wei, the only Malaysian athlete to boast of winning three consecutive silver medals.
Chong Wei will still be at the Olympics but as the chef-de-mission and our hopes will lie again on the sports that delivered at the 2016 Rio Games.
The badminton mixed doubles look promising with three pairs – Chan Peng Soon-Goh Liu Ying, Goh Soon Huat-Shevon Lai Jemie and Tan Kian Meng-Lai Pei Jing – fighting to finish in the top eight in the Olympic rankings by the end of April next year to grab the two tickets to Tokyo.
Badminton has never failed to deliver a podium finish since the 2008 Beijing Olympics and the mixed doubles look the best bet to continue the trend.
The badminton field is small with only 16 pairs and shuttlers can strike the jackpot if they get their acts right in Tokyo.
Badminton produced three silver medallists in Rio with Chong Wei, Peng Soon-Liu Ying and men’s doubles pair Goh V Shem-Tan Wee Kiong also in the mix.
Track cycling is another sport with a realistic chance.
Azizulhasni Awang has been winning at the top level for a decade and landing the historic gold in keirin at the World Track Cycling Championships in Hong Kong two years ago was the highlight of his illustrious career.
In Rio he returned with a bronze and with the clock ticking away, Azizul is more determined to deliver a gold in what will be his fourth Olympic appearance.
“I want to bring home the country’s first gold medal. There has always been someone to depend on to fight for gold at the Olympics. It used to be Chong Wei but he has retired. It is a big responsibility for me and the whole track cycling team.
“I hope all Malaysians will continue to support us in our campaign next year,” said the two-time Asian Games gold medallist.
Diving witnessed a historic breakthrough when Cheong Jun Hoong pulled off a huge win to claim the 10m platform individual gold medal at the 2017 World Aquatics Championships in Budapest, Hungary.
However, the 29-year-old has since struggled with injuries and it remains to be seen if she can make a successful return by next year.
Jun Hoong-Pandelela Rinong produced the first Olympic silver medal for Malaysia in diving in the 10m platform synchro and the discipline remains the best chance for a podium finish.
Leong Mun Yee reunited with Pandelela to claim silver at the world meet in Gwangju, South Korea and coach Li Rui will have a selection headache as Nur Dhabitah Sabri and Kimberly Bong are also in the running.
Archery stands an outside chance to hit the target if Khairul Anuar Mohamad shows up with his best form.
Khairul shot his way to the final at the World Archery Championships in Holland last month only to be denied by a single arrow to settle for a fantastic silver medal.
Malaysia have confirmed their representation in archery, diving and sailing (Khairulnizam Afendy and Nur Shazrin Abdul Latif).
Track cycling and badminton should get in by April next year while hockey, karate, weightlifting, golf and shooting may possibly join the cast.