Feed that hunger: BAM should develop winning mentality, mental toughness ahead of Paris Olympics

The Tokyo Olympics is over. The Malaysian contingent was able to bag one silver medal, thanks to cycling ace Datuk Azizulhasni Awang (men’s keirin) and a bronze medal by our badminton doubles Aaron Chia-Soh Wooi Yik.

I strongly feel that we could have won one more medal in the men’s singles.

So near, and yet so far. This is how I would describe Lee Zii Jia’s loss to Chen Long of China in the round of 16 of the men’s singles event.

After an impressive start, winning 21-8 in the first set, and drawing level at 19-all in the second set, the match was Zii Jia’s for the taking.

He was only two points away from qualifying for the quarterfinals. But it was not to be.

He kept his composure, but it was not enough to stop Chen Long (who had everything to win and nothing to lose) from winning the next two points to set a rubber match.

The third set was a whitewash as Zii Jia just gave up easily – he lost his fighting spirit, while Chen Long surged with confidence, giving up only five points in the rubber set.

In my mind, although Zii Jia had sufficient mental strength at the crucial juncture to wrap up the match, it was not enough. On the other hand, Chen Long, who was on the brink of a defeat, rose to the occasion.

In short, Chen Long, the eventual Tokyo Olympics silver medallist, had the upper hand, in terms of his hunger for a win. His willpower far exceeded that of Zii Jia’s.

He did not rattle, but instead, raised his game a notch higher than Zii Jia. That is what made the difference.

Chen Long had a higher mental toughness than Zii Jia. One must also admit that Zia Jia did not have the wealth of experience as Chen Long.

Psychologists will tell you that mindset is everything and that we should never underestimate the power of our thoughts; it is a powerful weapon when we are able to harness it at the right time.

This is the first Olympics, since the 2008 edition, that Malaysia did not have a men’s singles medallist.

All is not lost for Zii Jia.

Failure could serve as a great motivator. Losing is a great way to focus on one’s shortcomings and work on the areas for improvement.

Our best hope of winning the first-ever gold medal in the Olympics is still in badminton.

I strongly agree with former World No. 1 Datuk Lee Chong Wei, who is confident that an Olympic medal is already in hand for Zii Jia in 2024, if he starts preparing right away.

The coaching team will have their hands full.

Hopefully, the Badminton Association of Malaysia (BAM) will take the cue from Zii Jia’s defeat and focus more on developing a winning mentality and toughness among our players, especially when the chips are down.

Be mindful that the 2024 Paris Olympic Games is only three years away, and so, there is much work to be done, and not much time left in which to do it.

It’s heartening to note that our current batch of badminton players will still be ‘young’ enough to participate competitively in the next Games.

Like many others, Zii Jia is driven by the Olympic dream to be an Olympic champion in 2024. Let’s wish him the best.

This is the personal opinion of the writer and does not necessarily represent the views of Twentytwo13.

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