By Mariam Mokhtar

Syabas and congratulations to all the Malaysian sportsmen who competed at the Olympic Games, in Rio de Janeiro in August. You are an inspiration to us and to our youth.

At Rio 2016, Malaysia won four silver and one bronze medals; its best performance. The men and women who represented Malaysia did us proud. We had the privilege of watching several thrilling performances. For those who did not win a medal, it is not so much the winning that counts, but doing their best.

The finals of the men’s badminton singles saw Malaysians gathering in their hundreds across the world, to watch the long awaited match between Malaysia’s Lee Chong Wei and the People’s Republic of China’s (PRC), Chen Long.

It was agonising to watch the world class players. The pressure on Chong Wei must have been tremendous. He’d only just recovered from a gruelling match with his nemesis, Lin Dan, of PRC. Lin Dan was eventually trounced by the Dane, Viktor Axelsen, who took the bronze medal.

Despite Chong Wei’s shaky start, he quickly recovered his fighting form, and did not disappoint us, with a nail-biting match; but as the results have shown, Chong Wei lost to a better man.

There were many defining images of this match. Chen Long collapsing onto the court, in euphoria, after his win. Despite his loss, the magnanimous Chong Wei, ever the sportsman, congratulating Chen Long on his triumph. Chong Wei, being consoled by a coach from China. The beaming Axelsen, who must have felt good, after defeating China’s Lin Dan.

The performance of Malaysia’s men’s doubles pair, Goh V Shem and Tan Wee Kiong, was just as riveting. They were unlucky and narrowly missed out on the gold medal, when they lost to China’s Hu Haifeng and Zhang Nan. The scores were 21-16, 11-21, 21-23.

In the badminton mixed doubles final, Malaysia’s Goh Liu Ying and Chan Peng Soon won the silver medal. This win was all the more remarkable as the pair were not expected to make it to the finals, and Liu Ying, had surgery to repair her damaged knees, two years ago.

In an excerpt from a posting in her Facebook page, Liu Ying, expressed her hopes and her fears, her dreams and her feelings. The posting, in Mandarin was translated by Malaysiakini.

She said, “In the beginning the goal was to perform in the group stage. Then, when we got into the semi-finals, I thought that maybe we may have a chance at a bronze medal.

“When we won the semi-finals, I felt like I was in a dream. Did I really win? Is this not a dream? I have dreamt for many times how great a feeling it would be to be able to stand on the podium.”

Liu Ying acknowledged that she and her partner were up against a powerful Indonesian team but they did their best. She added, “Standing on the podium and seeing the moment the Malaysian flag was raised, I teared up. I could only dream of this moment, I never thought it could happen.”

Malaysia’s other medals were won by divers, Pandelela Rinong and Cheong Jun Hoong, who bagged silver in the 10m platform synchronised diving event. Sadly, Pandelela’s shot at another medal win, a few days later, were dashed when her old injuries flared up.

Last week, cyclist, Azizulhasni Awang, was the first Malaysian to win at the Rio 2016 Olympics, when he won a bronze medal in the men’s Keirin contest.

Terengganu-born Azizulhasni’s win brought back a few unpleasant memories about the denial of a request for aid, during training. He highlighted the lack of support from his state government in a press report, and this prompted the Terengganu MB to order a probe into the denial of funds to the sportsman. It is more common than we thought, as Azizulhasni is not the only one to complain about the lack of funding for athletes.

We have done extremely well this Olympics and we are getting better. So, why was it necessary for two local mainstream media newspapers, to denigrate the silver Olympic medal of the badminton mixed duo?

Do the reporters from these papers realise the dedication, the passion, the commitment and the sacrifices made by our sportsmen?

To prepare for the Olympics, or for any competition, for that matter, sportsmen have to train hard, at their chosen sport. The rest of the time, they have to keep fit, by spending hours in a gym.

They have to be mentally as well as physically prepared. They cannot, like you and I, go out for late nights and eat or drink what they like. Their diet is strictly regulated. They must have ample rest and at least eight hours sleep a night. They cannot do stupid things and injure their bodies. Do these reporters have what it takes to be an Olympic athlete?

Let us hope that the performance of our sportsmen will inspire more schoolchildren to take up sports. We trust our authorities to encourage participation in sports, as well as build more sporting facilities for our youth. The race to the next Olympics in Tokyo starts now!