Lee still bears the burden

Right: Fans cheering gold medallists Tontowi Ahmad and Liliyana Natsir before they received their gold medals - Indonesia's first in badminton mixed doubles. Left: Malaysia's Goh Liu Ying and Chan Peng Soon were outclassed but not embarrassed in the
Malaysia's Goh Liu Ying and Chan Peng Soon were outclassed but not embarrassed in the final, having already exceeded expectations.PHOTOS: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE
Right: Fans cheering gold medallists Tontowi Ahmad and Liliyana Natsir before they received their gold medals - Indonesia's first in badminton mixed doubles. Left: Malaysia's Goh Liu Ying and Chan Peng Soon were outclassed but not embarrassed in the
Fans cheering gold medallists Tontowi Ahmad and Liliyana Natsir before they received their gold medals - Indonesia's first in badminton mixed doubles. PHOTOS: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Mixed doubles silver as good as gold but with men's doubles a big ask, the world No. 1 looks best bet for a title

With a wide grin on his face and before he took any questions from a group of impatient journalists, badminton player Chan Peng Soon first gave the Malaysian contingent's chef de mission a hug.

He then took his latest most- prized possession off his own neck and put it on Mohamed Al Amin Abdul Majid, who is also the acting president of the Badminton Association of Malaysia, as they admired the weighty, shiny medal together.

Chan and his mixed doubles partner Goh Liu Ying had just fallen short in the final, outclassed and outmatched by Indonesia's Tontowi Ahmad and Liliyana Natsir 21-14, 21-12. The result meant missing the chance to give Malaysia its first Olympic gold - in any sport - a loss that should have meant heartbreak and anguish.

But judging by the contentment with which the duo greeted the result, silver seemed as good as gold for the pair. After all, few had picked the Malaysian world No. 11s to go on a fairy-tale run to the final and least of all, boot out a formidable Chinese pair en route.

Chan and Goh whitewashed China's world No. 6 Xu Chen and Ma Jin, the 2012 silver medallists 21-12, 21-19 in the semi-finals. In the final, however, taking out Indonesia's 2013 world champions proved to be too big an ask.

From speed to shot-making, right down to the strength of their supporters cheering in the stands, the Malaysians could not find an edge over their Indonesian counterparts.

A GREAT PRESENT

The supporters were amazing. Today is also Indonesia's Independence Day so this is our gift to Indonesia.

TONTOWI AHMAD, on Indonesia's first gold medal in Rio.

Gold would have been better - and historic - but silver was already, to quote both Chan and Goh, a "miracle".

HIGH TIME WE WON

I feel relieved, proud and happy. This is payback for London because Indonesia has always won gold medals in badminton but we didn't then.

LILYANA NATSIR, on the team drawing a blank in 2012.

"This result is already a miracle for us. There are so many top pairs in the mixed doubles," said Chan. "It would be a lie if I said we have zero regrets about the result, but we've done our best."

Getting to the final ahead of compatriot Lee Chong Wei has catapulted the duo into the limelight. Lee, a two-time silver medallist, is due to play his semi-final against arch-rival Lin Dan of China in the men's singles semi-finals this evening (Singapore time).

More importantly, the pair's achievement has put the spotlight on mixed doubles back home.

Said Goh: "Mixed doubles is not an event that gets a lot of attention in Malaysia. To even be able to be here, and to be on that podium, is already a huge honour for us."

Badminton is by far Malaysia's most successful sport at the Olympics, accounting for five of the six medals won before the Rio Games.

But from an emphasis on the men's doubles in the 1990s to the overwhelming push behind world No. 1 Lee, the attention was never quite on the mixed doubles.

Said Goh: "To be able to stand here today as a mixed doubles pair, it should show Malaysia that we are actually not bad in this event too, that we also have talent in the mixed doubles.

"I hope that more attention will be paid to the mixed doubles."

Despite settling for just silver yesterday, the addition of another medal already meant a bumper haul at this Olympics for Malaysia, which now has two silvers (badminton, diving) and a bronze (cycling).

It is assured of at least another silver with men's doubles shuttlers Goh V Shem and Tan Wee Kiong, the 12th-ranked pair, pencilled in against China's world No. 4 Fu Haifeng and Zhang Nan.

But the greatest hopes - and perhaps expectations - of a first Olympic gold for Malaysia, will still be Lee's burden to bear.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 19, 2016, with the headline 'Lee still bears the burden'. Print Edition | Subscribe