Olympics: Despite disruptions, Lee Chong Wei backs China, Japan shuttlers to shine

Lee Chong Wei said he is now in good health but decided against travelling to Tokyo due to concerns over the pandemic. PHOTO: LEE CHONG WEI/INSTAGRAM

KUALA LUMPUR (XINHUA) - The upcoming Tokyo Olympics is very special due to the Covid-19 pandemic, which makes it difficult to predict the outcome of the badminton competitions, said Malaysia's badminton great Lee Chong Wei on Wednesday (July 22).

Malaysia's chef de mission (CDM) for the Tokyo Olympic Games also said he is looking forward to the 2022 Olympic Winter Games in Beijing less than 200 days away.

"The Tokyo Olympic Games is very special," said Lee in an interview with media from China via video link.

Citing the experience of Malaysian athletes, Lee said those participating in the Games have paid great efforts and have gone through severe tests on their mental strength, as they had to train in isolation, undergo constant Covid-19 screening and will play without spectators in Tokyo.

"This is very different from the four Olympic Games that I participated in," he said.

Lee has won three silver medals for Malaysia in three consecutive Olympic Games. But even a veteran like him says it's difficult the predict the outcome of the badminton competition, as the form and shape of many shuttlers remain unknown due to the lack of international tournaments since the outbreak.

"The last major tournament was the All England Open in March, in which many players were absent," he said.

"For example, the Chinese badminton team hasn't participated in international tournaments for over a year. So whether is Chen Long, Shi Yuqi or other many players, we simply do not know if they are in good shape or what is their latest tactics," said Lee, referring to the two Chinese men's singles players.

But in general, Lee sees host Japan and China in better positions as both teams are strong in all five disciplines.

"All I can say is that this Olympic Games is very special, and I think anything could happen," he said.

Lee was diagnosed with nose cancer in 2018 and announced his retirement in 2019 before being appointed as his country's chef de mission to the Tokyo Games.

Lee said he is now in good health but decided against travelling to Tokyo due to concerns over the pandemic, but he would cheer for the Malaysian Olympians and provide advice to them, hoping that they would finally complete his unfinished quest to win the first Olympic gold medal for Malaysia.

Lee said he has mostly settled down for life after retirement, but the passion would still arise whenever he watches one of his matches against Lin Dan, his nemesis from China.

"We are still in touch," said Lee, "Since we both are retired, we could finally enjoy watching others play."

One of the epic battles between Lee and Lin was the men's singles final in the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games when Lin clinched his first Olympic gold.

Despite the defeat, Lee said he would never forget the experience in Beijing, and he was very impressed by the perfect organising and facilities of the Beijing Olympic Games, which make him confident that the upcoming Winter Olympic Games in Beijing would be a success.

"As an overseas Chinese, I am very proud that China would host the Winter Olympics," he said. "I sincerely hope that the pandemic will subside by the time of the Games, and I will be able to travel to China to watch it."

"I have participated in the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games as an athlete. Although I won't have that opportunity for the 2022 Winter Olympic Games, I still want to be there and feel it," he added.

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