KUALA LUMPUR: The first time could be a charm for national men’s singles shuttler Chong Wei Feng at the Myanmar SEA Games from Dec 9-14 in Naypyitaw.
It has taken the scrawny Wei Feng eight long years to represent Malaysia in his first major tournament and the 26-year-old is ready to justify his selection by taking the bull by its horns at the biennial Games.
Malaysia last won a men’s singles title at the SEA Games through Mohd Roslin Hashim at the Kuala Lumpur edition in 2001.
And the hope is now on Wei Feng and his younger compatriot Iskandar Zulkarnain Zainuddin to end the 12-year wait in Myanmar - especially in the absence of world No. 1 Lee Chong Wei.
Wei Feng is all pumped up to make his debut a memorable one.
“I am 26 years old this year and as a senior player, I intend to grab this opportunity to the fullest to bring honour to the nation. This is my first major multi-sport Games and I am excited,” said Wei Feng.
The world No. 17 Wei Feng said that he had several reasons for being a late bloomer.
“I had hoped to make the SEA Games squad before this but the timing was not right. Some years, I performed well early in the year but lost momentum towards the end. Now, I have been chosen and it is better late than never.”
Without Chong Wei and several others, who will be taking part in the BWF’s World Super Series Finals in Kuala Lumpur, which fall during the same time (Dec 11-15), the race for the men’s singles title at the SEA Games is quite open.
Thailand’s Boonsak Ponsana, Tanongsak Saensomboonsuk and Indonesia’s Tommy Sugiarto and two-time SEA Games champion Sony Dwi Kuncoro (2003 and 2005) are also in the running for spots in the Finals and may opt for the lucrative US$500,000 (RM1.6mil) tournament instead of the SEA Games.
Indonesia have the option of sending Tommy and two-time men singles champion Simon Santoso (2009 and 2011) for the SEA Games while Thailand may have to send new faces.
The other strong contenders will be World Championships bronze medallist Nguyen Tien Minh and Singapore’s Ashton Chen and Derek Wong.
“The usual suspects may not be at the SEA Games because it clashes with the Super Series Finals. I strongly believe that I have a chance to reach the SEA Games badminton final if I put mind to it. I will not be satisfied if I do not reach the final,” he said.
Wei Feng’s confidence stems from his good run this season. He has beaten some of his South-East Asian rivals, including Tanongsak and Sony en route to reaching the China Open semi-finals in Shanghai last week.
“There have been ups and downs but I am quite satisfied with my overall performance this year. I am more matured and I know what I need to do to improve my game. Mentally, I am stronger but I need to add spice in my game,” he added.
This year, Myanmar are only offering five gold medals in the badminton competition as they have dropped both the men’s and women’s team competitions.
Besides Wei Feng, Malaysia will also be hoping to improve on their previous medal haul of 0-1-2 through their two men’s doubles pair Goh V Shem-Teo Kok Siang and Lim Khim Wah-Ow Yao Han, and women’s doubles pair Vivian Hoo-Woon Khe Wei.
It will be tough for the other Malaysians as Thailand and Indonesia have more depth in the women’s singles and mixed doubles.