We are not alone searching for goldBy Sev Sarmenta
Philippine Daily Inquirer
SHAH ALAM, Malaysia— Malaysia shares with the Philippines the disappointment of twice coming close to winning Olympic gold medals.
This former British colony has a shorter history of participating in the Games but has knocked at the Olympic gold door twice in badminton. The pair of Yap Kin Hong and Cheah Soon Kit picked up a silver in the Atlanta Games, while Lee Chong Wei lost in the men’s single finals in Beijing. The sport has also produced two bronze medals, making it Malaysia’s sole source of Olympic medals.
As the London Games approaches, Malaysia is campaigning vigorously to whip up support for its Olympic athletes. Newspapers like The New Strait Times are filled with sports stories and advertisements chronicling the chances of the badminton team and other athletes like the archers. There’s even a music video that plays repeatedly on TV that’s connecting sports and national pride.
Just like in the Philippines, financial incentives await Malaysian podium finishers. The story that grabbed headlines was Kuala Lumpur Racquet Club owner Datuk Seri Andrew Kan’s offer of a 12.5-kilogram gold bar incentive worth two million Malaysian ringgit or roughly P26 million, exclusively for a gold medal in badminton.
Malaysia’s drive to finally nail an Olympic gold is not surprising since the country does have a vibrant and varied sports landscape. The Concorde where I stay is just six minutes away from the spanking Shah Alam stadium, the home of the Selangor FC. Football is clearly the premiere sport here with hardly any sign of basketball making a dent in its popularity. Nasi Kandar Pelita, a popular 24-hour open air carinderia-like restaurant, shows games on several flat TV monitors. Stores sell versions of Manchester United shirts and even the humongous Sunway Pyramid Mall emphasizes football merchandise over those of any other sport.
The 15th Malaysia Games is also in full swing here, with different regions of the country participating in Olympic disciplines. TV stations show the games throughout the afternoon, revealing budding talents in boxing, swimming and athletic events. The extensive coverage reminds us of the time when our own PTV would cover the Palarong Pambansa even without major sponsors just to give Filipino athletes a chance to be exposed on television.
We are not alone in the Olympic quest. While the powers of the Olympics, like the United States, China and European countries, are accustomed to massive gold rushes, Southeast Asian countries like Malaysia and the Philippines are trying everything to boost chances of pocketing even just one gold.
The palatable difference is that Malaysia is optimistic that the gold medal is attainable and not merely a pipe dream. The country has always had superb badminton players but is supporting all Olympic athletes no matter how difficult their competition will be. Its Olympic team of 30 athletes has been treated to high media exposure over the entire week with sports analysts giving fair evaluations of their chances against the world’s best.
The Philippines would probably have the same confidence and enthusiasm if we had more athletes that qualified for the London Games. The challenge to our sports culture and infrastructure is to strengthen not only priority disciplines where we have chances to win Olympic medals but also to develop a broader range of sports that will attract a bigger base of future champions.
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