THE Commonwealth Games are about to start in less than two weeks time and it is fair to say that Malaysia’s sporting future is at stake in Birmingham.
At the last edition in Gold Coast, Australia, four years ago, the cream of Malaysian sports like squash queen Nicol David, veteran cyclist Azizulhasni Awang and singles shuttler Lee Chong Wei were still there.
They were the best in their respective sports and only time will tell whether there will be athletes of that calibre to come in the future.
They had to meet high expectations and they consistently did their part to contribute.
Nicol and Chong Wei have since called it quits after years of long service to the nation while Azizul is forced to sit it out although he would have loved a shot at winning the Commonwealth Games gold that eluded him.
Azizul had corrective heart surgery in April and will have to give up any thoughts of competitive racing for the next few months as he tries to gets back to top physical shape and fitness.
The question is whether the younger athletes can step up and take the baton to deliver the medals in Birmingham when the action starts from July 29 to Aug 8.
In cycling, we have Mohd Shah Firdaus Sahrom who needs to show there is hope for Malaysian track cycling.
Shah Firdaus has been training with Azizul for the last few years in Melbourne under coach John Beasley who is certainly hoping his charge can rise to the occasion despite stiff competition from Australia, England, Scotland and New Zealand.
Azizul has great mental fortitude, and one thing Shah Firdaus can learn from his senior is not to give up even when the odds are heavily stacked against you.
Lee Zii Jia was to be the main gold medal hope for badminton but he surprisingly opted out with the reason that he wanted to focus on the World Championships taking place in Tokyo at the end of August.
But even Zii Jia is not a sure bet for gold with the likes of India’s K. Srikanth and Lakshya Sen, and reigning world champion Loh Kean Yew of Singapore also eyeing success.
The hope is then on the slightly younger Ng Tze Yong to rise to the occasion as the replacement.
The up-and-coming gymnasts will also be out to show that they can be counted on with Farah Ann Hadi and Tracie Ang no longer around for this year’s Commonwealth campaign.
So is diving with Leong Mun Yee and Cheong Jun Hoong having hung up their diving suits for good, paving the way for Nur Dhabitah Sabri and Ong Ker Ying to take up the gauntlet in the coming years.
All said and done, if the younger batch of athletes can finish on the podium, that will indicate where the future of Malaysian sports lie.