PETALING JAYA: Athens waited 104 years for the Olympic Games to make a return to its spiritual home. They got their wish.
Malaysians have waited since independence for the first Olympic gold medal. Can they fulfil that wish in Athens?
The badminton players would seem to hold the answer. They are ranked among the best in the world, they can beat any of the top players on their day. And badminton is the only sport to have delivered medals before a silver from Cheah Soon Kit-Yap Kim Hock in the men's doubles in Atlanta in 1996 and bronzes from the Sidek brothers.
Razif and Jalani brought a bronze home from the 1992 Barcelona Games and Rashid won one in Atlanta.
This time around the national shuttlers are determined to deliver.
Said team captain and Malaysia's best hope Wong Choong Hann: We are ready to mount a strong challenge in Athens. It is our greatest hope to bring back that elusive gold medal for Malaysia. Hopefully, we will return triumphant this time.
For the first time, though, Malaysia could also bring in medals from other sports, like cycling and taekwondo.
Josiah Ng has been among the best in the world in the kierin, finishing as the runner-up in the World Cup while Elaine Teo won the Korean and Austrian Open recently. The absence of the mighty Koreans from her event has also bolstered her chances.
Malaysian chef-de-mission Datuk Dr M. Jegathesan believes wholeheartedly that this contingent will bring home a gold and more this time.
We are always in there with a chance. If we did not believe that, we might as well have a ballot to decide who would win and post the medals to them, he declared.
The Malaysian shuttlers would certainly be on any ballot. Choong Hann is ranked third in the world, and while Choong Tan Fook and Lee Wan Wah are currently ranked No.1 in the world.
And then there's singles players Roslin Hashim and Lee Chong Wei and the other doubles pair of Chan Chong Ming and Chew Choon Eng. They could pull off a surprise or two.
Roslin knows his career could go off the rails if he does not do well. Choong Hann and the top doubles pair know this may be their last Olympics. So there is certainly no lack of motivation.
Only the girls doubles pair of Chin Ee Hui and Wong Pei Tty look to be out of depth against the mighty Chinese, South Koreans and Europeans.
Barring any upsets, Choong Hann should steer clear of the three Chinese players, top seed Lin Dan, second seed Chen Hong and fourth seed Bao Chunlai in the early rounds, which should leave him well-rested for the final charge.
The race is more open in the men's doubles.
Tan Fook-Wan Wah, fourth seeds, have beaten the three pairs seeded above them Danes Jonas Rasmussen-Lars Paaske; China's Cai Yun-Fu Haifeng; and South Koreans Kim Dong-moon-Ha Tae-kwon of South Korea.
Said the 29-year-old Wan Wah: This could be our last Olympics. Both of us have gone through tough times because of injuries but the passion to win at the Olympics has kept us going. Now, we are set to give it our best shot.
In Sydney 2000, the duo came painfully close to winning a bronze medal. They lost to Dong-moon-Tae-kwon in the third place playoff.
The Switzerland-based Josiah is also in the running for a medal and may even cycle to a gold medal. He topped the ranking in the Track World Cup last year and could have been crowned champion but for an accident that saw him out of action for six weeks with a fractured wrist.
Elaine, too, has her eyes on a medal and a good draw could see her achieving her aim.
Besides badminton, cycling and taekwondo, Malaysia will also be represented in seven other sports - aquatics (swimming and diving), archery, athletics, gymnastics (men's artistic), shooting, weightlifting and yachting.
It may be tough for them to make the rostrum but what is expected of them is to give their best and produce their best at the Games.
The preparations have been thorough and millions have been poured into their training. Like national sports training camp motivator Menet bin Saad said: It is money that could have been used to feed and house the poor in the country. It's the people's money. Now, it's time for the athletes to pay back by bringing the smiles to the people. The only way they can do that is by bringing home the medals.
Parent site: "Focus on Malaysia"