THE BA of Malaysia (BAM) cannot claim it has enjoyed a successful year despite the country winning an Asian Games badminton gold medal after 36 years.
While full credit should be given to mens doubles pair Koo Kien Keat-Tan Boon Heong for their brilliant performance in Doha, where they swept aside the games biggest names, it has to be remembered that their partnership is still young.
The only reason why Kien Keat-Boon Heong featured in Doha was because national doubles coach Rexy Mainaky became desperate. And desperate situations demand desperate measures and that is what Rexy did when he realised that he did not have even one seasoned pair capable of winning a medal, let alone gold, in Doha.
Kien Keat-Boon Heong had only competed in just one tournament the Japan Open in October where they finished runners-up. But this did not deter Rexy and he put his job on the line by dropping veteran pair Choong Tan Fook-Lee Wan Wah, and Kien Keats partner Chan Chong Ming from the Games squad.
In came Lin Woon Fui-Fairuzizuan Tazari and the surprise combination of Kien Keat-Boon Heong, who were only supposed to be paired off after the 2008 Beijing Olympics.
And the below par performance of Kien Keat-Boon Heong in the team event in Doha suggested that Rexy may have made a big mistake.
It even led to a frustrated Rexy tendering his "resignation" in Doha, but this led to a remarkable response from Kien Keat-Boon Heong as they rose to the challenge and sweeping aside any pair in their path.
But is this just a flash-in-the-pain or the beginning of Kien Keat-Boon Heongs road to greatness? Can the others deliver by winning major honours?
We can say that Kien Keat-Boon Heong are on the right path to a stellar rise, but it doesnt look so for the rest.
Lee Chong Wei has the potential to challenge the sports two biggest stars World champion Lin Dan of China and Olympic champion Taufik Hiadayat of Indonesia.
But inconsistency has plagued his game, and his form has plunged since his failure in the World Championships in Madrid in September. Targeted to reach at least the final, Chong Wei suffered his first defeat in seven meetings to Bao Chunlai of China in the World championship quarter-finals.
Much hope was riding on Chong Wei in Madrid as he had won the Malaysia Open by beating Lin Dan and even becoming the World No 1 in July for several weeks. But the fact that he could not handle the pressure when it mattered most, showed that he is still not in the class of Lin Dan and Taufik.
Nonetheless, winning a medal in the 2008 Beijing Olympics is not beyond Chong Weis ability but what he needs now is to regain his confidence and remain focused on major events and not just doing well in grand prix tournaments.
The 2007 World Championships, which will be held in Kuala Lumpur, is where Chong Wei can gain respectability as a top class player but he has to do it by winning the crown.
It is not beyond his capability as Chong Wei is almost unbeatable at home and should he achieve the feat, it will put him in the right frame of mind for the 2008 Beijing Olympics.
Hafiz Hashims form has gone from bad to worse this year, and he is not going to get better if he doesnt change his coach.
Coach Misbun Sidek has left it to Hafiz to decide, but the former Commonwealth Games and All-England champion doesnt seem to appreciate the urgency of the situation.
As it stands, Hafiz does not look like he wants to leave his comfort zone and it wont be a surprise if the 24-year-old never realises his true potential.
The rest of the singles players, including veteran Wong Choong Hann, are not expected to make an impact and the future also looks bleak as the talent in the back-up squad doesnt look promising.
That leaves the burden of delivering Olympic gold, or a medal for that matter, on the shoulders of Kien Keat-Boon Heong, and Rexy must be prepared to work hard.
Winning tournaments was a norm for Rexy as a player and he needs to instill this in his players. Thats a tough challenge, given the Malaysian mindset, but one responsibility that Rexy has to take.
Rexy must also find ways to bring out the best consistently basis from pairs like Lin Woon Fui-Fairuzizuan Tazari and Gan Teik Chai-Zakry Latif, as depending too much on Kien Keat-Boon Heong will be risky.
As for veteran pair Choong Tan Fook-Lee Wan Wah, they have to face the reality that their time is up. The pair have underperformed for so long and it would be better for BAM to place their faith on younger pairs.
After all, we want Malaysian shuttlers to win at the Olympics, Asian Games and Thomas Cup and not rule in the Commonwealth Games alone.
They won four gold medals in the Melbourne Commonwealth Games but their semi-final exit in the Thomas Cup Finals and the defeat in the Asian Games team event means badminton is not scaling the heights it should with the funding that it gets.
Chief coach Yap Kim Hock must realise this. Players who are past their prime must be shipped out and new talent brought in. Risks have to be taken, and as Kien Keat-Boon Heong have proved, they can pay off. (source: NST)