KEY FACTOR: Chong Wei must prove he can finally win the mind game
NEVER has the nation held its breath as it will today when Lee Chong Wei takes on Lin Dan in the Olympics men's singles final at the Wembley Arena.
It may be a repeat of the 2008 final but Malaysians, as much as they wanted the wait for an Olympic gold medal to end then, knew deep in their hearts that there was no way Lin Dan was going to be denied the title on home soil.
Lin Dan was simply awesome in that final, winning 21-12, 21-8, but there was a feeling that Chong Wei, in reaching the final, played with the purpose of an athlete who had already achieved what he had set out to do — win a medal at the Olympics.
That, however, was four years ago and since then, Lin Dan has stopped Chong Wei from winning the Asian Games gold in 2010 and in last year’s World Championships final at the Wembley Arena.
Last year’s defeat was heartbreaking as Chong Wei twice held match point, only for the mercurial Lin Dan to come back and seal a fourth world title.
The hurt of always losing at the final stage of major championships is what Chong Wei must use as motivation to end his pain and seal his place as the first Malaysian Olympic gold medallist.
The buildup was not good, thanks to the ankle injury that Chong Wei suffered in the Thomas Cup Finals in May, but the past week has seen Chong Wei slowly but surely improving and he is as good physically as he would want to be.
What will be the difference between him and Lin Dan, though, will be mental strength.
The China ace, when asked what motivated him when trailing 16-19 to Chong Wei in the World Championships final, said then: “I told myself that I had nothing to lose. I was a three-time world champion while Chong Wei was desperate to win it for the first time. I just kept going.”
Mental strength is the one key element that has always separated Lin Dan from Chong Wei and the Malaysian admitted it would play a crucial part in his preparation.
"I have to psyche myself up mentally as this will be crucial if I am to win. I admit there is a feeling of relief, having made the final for the second successive time, but I desperately want the gold." said Chong Wei after beating Chen Long on Friday in the semi-finals.
“Just like Lin Dan, I will also be out for a win. Lin Dan wants to defend his title but I want to exchange the silver for a gold,” he said.
To some, Lin Dan has not looked as sharp as he normally is but Chong Wei said he is sure that the Chinese superstar will produce his best today.
"I have seen Lin Dan do this many times. He may play badly but when it comes to the crunch, he always produces."
For Chong Wei, the rewards are huge if he wins: RM1 million each from the government and a furniture company and a gold bar worth RM2 million from Kuala Lumpur Racquet Club boss Datuk Seri Andrew Kam. But the biggest of them all will be the gratitude of a nation.
Malaysia has gotten tired of waiting for a gold medal and there is genuine fear that once Chong Wei leaves the scene, we will be staring at Olympic wilderness in badminton, considering the lack of talent coming through.
That, however, is the future and what matters now is the present and if Chong Wei wins gold today, the nation will celebrate as one nation and hopefully, a fresh crop of players will emerge, wanting to be Malaysia's next Olympic hero.