IF THE accomplishments of shuttler Datuk Lee Chong Wei and diver Pandelela Rinong Pamg at the London Olympics is anything to go by, there is truth to the saying "good things come in small packages" (our spicier national language version being kecik-kecik cili padi).
Which is not to say that either Chong Wei or Pandelela are small people; rather, as a small country, Malaysia didn't do too badly at the Olympics. Chong Wei came within a whisker of beating China's Lin Dan for the men's badminton gold. Considering that Malaysia only has about 28 million citizens, and China has 1.34 billion, the fact that our champion gave their champion a real run for his money is absolutely thrilling.
The same with Pandelela, who brought Malaysia to third place after China and the United States (population: nearly 314 million) in the women's 10m individual platform dive.
But then, in sports, the size of one's country is never a measure of one's probable success. Sure, large population countries like China and the US have a larger pool from which to choose, but that doesn't stop Australia (population 22.88 million) from being such a major medal contender. In fact, up to yesterday (Saturday) evening, Australia has won a total 447 medals from its 27-Olympic runs, compared with the United States' 2,387 in 26 Olympics. And, how to explain Jamaica, which has a population only 3.33 per cent that of Malaysia's, winning 10 medals so far in this Olympics, having sent only 50 athletes in four sports? From a total 17 summer Olympics, Jamaica has won 65 medals. And take Grenada (population: 110,821, with an area smaller than Kota Baru, Kelantan), which sent only nine athletes for three events. After eight Olympics, Grenada won its first medal recently -- a gold! As far as performance per capita is concerned, as ranked by medalspercapita.com, Grenada is No.1, Jamaica No.2, Australia (11), the US (42), Malaysia (68), and China (72). Malaysia may not have won gold yet, but we have won silvers and bronzes, and we have now gone beyond badminton only. Not only that, but, unlike sportswomen in countries like Saudi Arabia, who have difficulty in even getting to the Olympics because of societal ultra-conservatism, sportswomen in Malaysia not only go in some numbers, but one has now even won (an officially recorded) medal. So, while we might bewail Chong Wei's eventual retirement, the fact is that the road is wide open for Malaysian athletes. But, the National Sports Council and corporate sponsors must not discriminate against minor sports. To begin with, sports is for everyone; not just champions. And champions are made when masses of people enjoy and participate in sports -- of any field. Our first gold medallist could come from anywhere.