Lee's Tokyo hopes hit by Malaysia Open pullout

Lee Chong Wei could find himself out of the world's top 100 by end-April. He must be in the top 16 to be sure of an Olympic slot.
Lee Chong Wei could find himself out of the world's top 100 by end-April. He must be in the top 16 to be sure of an Olympic slot.PHOTO: EPA-EFE

KUALA LUMPUR • Badminton great Lee Chong Wei's dream of a gold medal at next year's Olympics has been thrown into jeopardy after officially pulling out of next month's Malaysian Open, despite having been given the all-clear following his cancer treatment.

The 36-year-old, who has not competed since July, had been slated to make his long-awaited comeback on April 2.

However, Lee will not be able to defend his Malaysian Open title, which he has won a record 12 times, after being told by his doctors to not put "undue stress" on his recovering body.

This came after he travelled to Taiwan last weekend for a post-treatment follow-up.

In a statement on Tuesday night, the Badminton Association of Malaysia (BAM) reassured his fans "his recovery process is progressing well", before adding: "Following his routine check-up in Taiwan, we are pleased to inform Chong Wei has been given a clean bill of health.

"However, Chong Wei has been advised to withdraw from the upcoming Malaysia Open.

"BAM's priorities remain focused solely on Chong Wei's health and will continue to offer him unwavering support. We also urge everyone to give him the space and time required for his recovery."

When contacted, Lee confirmed his pullout, but declined to elaborate. His withdrawal, however, came as little surprise as BAM president Norza Zakaria had told supporters last week to lower their expectations over his return.

Although Lee has been undergoing thrice-weekly workouts in the gym since before the Chinese New Year, he has yet to get back into the full swing of things.

He has not played since his semi-final exit at the Indonesian Open and subsequently went through 33 sessions of proton therapy treatment in Taiwan.

The three-time Olympic silver medallist originally planned to come back at the All England Open earlier this month, and a second delay does not bode well as the one-year qualifying period for the Tokyo 2020 Games starts on May 1.

The 41st-ranked player is likely to find himself outside the world's top 100 by the end of next month for his non-participation at the Malaysia Open and this month's Badminton Asia Mixed Team Championships in Hong Kong.

While teams are able to send a maximum of two singles players to the Olympics, both must be ranked in the world's top 16.

The former world No. 1 also faces competition from compatriots Lee Zii Jia and Daren Liew, the world No. 21 and No. 23 respectively.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 21, 2019, with the headline 'Lee's Tokyo hopes hit by Malaysia Open pullout'. Print Edition | Subscribe