KUALA LUMPUR – The success of national men’s doubles pair Aaron Chia-Soh Wooi Yik in creating history by becoming the first Malaysian shuttlers to be crowned world champions in August marks the country’s best achievement in the sporting arena this year.
Aaron, 25, and Wooi Yik, 24, ended Malaysian badminton’s 45-year wait when they defeated three-time world champions Mohamad Ahsan-Hendra Setiawan of Indonesia 21-19, 21-14 in the final of the World Championships in Tokyo, Japan.
The triumph also ended their own jinx of never winning a doubles title since being paired up in 2017, with their other feats being helping Malaysia win the team gold medal in the 2019 SEA Games and bagging the men’s doubles silver medal at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
Aaron-Wooi Yik started the year with a bang by helping the national team clinch their maiden title in the Badminton Asia Team Championships, which was held at Setia Alam, Selangor from Feb 15-20.
Malaysia emerged as champions in the men’s category after defeating arch-rivals Indonesia 3-0 in the final, while the national women’s team had to settle for bronze after losing 3-0 to South Korea in the semi-finals.
In the individual events of the Badminton Asia Championships, which was held in Manila, the Philippines from April 26-May 1, Lee Zia Jia clinched the men’s singles title while Aaron-Wooi Yik finished runners-up in men’s doubles.
However, the overall performance of Malaysian athletes in the two major multi-sports events – the 2022 Birmingham Commonwealth Games and the 2021 Hanoi SEA Games – was not very impressive although they managed to surpass the stipulated target, which had been lowered.
In Birmingham, the national contingent exceeded the four-gold target when they returned home with seven gold, five silver and 12 bronze medals for a 10th placing in the medal standings, which was a slightly better achievement compared to the previous edition in the Gold Coast, Australia (7-5-12 medal haul to finish 12th).
While the badminton players (two golds), weightlifters (two golds), rhythmic gymnasts (two golds) and para sports’ powerlifter (one gold) shone brightly, the divers, cyclists and lawn bowlers were a huge letdown.
Meanwhile, in Hanoi, the 584-strong Malaysian contingent surpassed the target of 36 golds, 35 silvers and 75 bronzes by taking home a 39-45-90 medal haul, or 7.43 per cent of the total number of gold medals contested, to finish sixth overall.
However, it was still one of the worst achievements ever by Malaysia in the biennial Games and the second time they missed out on finishing in the top five after the 1983 edition in Singapore, especially after the athletics and swimming teams could each only win five out of 47 golds and one out of 40 golds on offer respectively.
The para sports contingent, meanwhile, shone brightly when they returned home with 36 golds, 20 silvers and 14 bronzes from the ASEAN Para Games (APG) in Solo, Indonesia, which was more than double the target of 16 gold medals set for them.
Although they only sent a small contingent of 73 athletes, their outstanding achievements in six sports – swimming, athletics, badminton, archery, wheelchair tennis and table tennis – proved pivotal in contributing to the overall success at the APG.
Despite their sweet success, the national sports fraternity was stunned by the news that national track cycling ace Datuk Mohd Azizulhasni Awang had to undergo open heart surgery on April 21 in Melbourne, Australia, which resulted in him having to take a six-month break from competition.
The winner of the keirin silver medal in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics was confirmed to have suffered a rare heart condition known as an anomalous aortic origin of the right coronary artery (AAORCA).
The 34-year-old rider, who returned to action in the UCI Track Champions League (TCL) in November, is now on a mission to qualify for the 2024 Paris Olympics.
The country’s sports landscape was mired in controversy this year as well when national men’s singles ace Zii Jia announced in February that he was quitting the Badminton Association of Malaysia (BAM) to pursue his career as a professional shuttler.
The 24-year-old shuttler’s action nearly backfired when BAM considered suspending him for two years before the matter was amicably settled following a meeting between several parties, including former prime minister Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri Yaakob and then Youth and Sports Minister Datuk Seri Ahmad Faizal Azumu.
Apart from that, the doping issue also tarnished the image of national sports when three weightlifters (two from Terengganu and one from Perlis), including a 16-year-old, tested positive for banned substances such as Metandienone, Terbutaline and Oxymetholone in a test before the 20th Malaysia Games (Sukma) that was held from Sept 16-24.
It saw the Malaysian Weightlifting Federation (MWF) withdrawing from conducting the weightlifting event at Sukma, resulting in the National Sports Council (NSC) taking over, but any records set were not recognised.
After all the highs and lows in the national sports arena this year, things are expected to heat up again in 2023 when all eyes will be on the Cambodia SEA Games from May 5-17, 2023; the Hangzhou Asian Games, which has been postponed for a year to September 2023; and the qualifying tournaments for the 2024 Paris Olympics.
So, sit back and enjoy what is expected to be another roller-coaster ride for Malaysian sports. – Bernama