KUALA LUMPUR: Lee Chong Wei is used to going to the Olympics as Malaysia’s highest ranked player. But that may not be the case anymore.
A possible three-way fight to qualify for the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games is on the cards, and Chong Wei is ready for it.
The former World No 1, who has not seen competitive action since he was diagnosed with nose cancer last year, expects strong rivalry from two other Malaysian shuttlers, Lee Zii Jia and Liew Daren, as he gears up for his much anticipated comeback at the Malaysia Open in April.
The Indonesia Open in July was Chong Wei's last international outing and since then, he has dropped down to No 30 in the world rankings, two rungs below Zii Jia (No 28) and Daren (No 29).
A country can only be represented by two players if they are in the top 16 bracket at the end of the one-year qualifying period which starts in May.
“It is only fair for the best players to qualify for the Olympics," said Chong Wei yesterday after two hours of training at the Academy Badminton Malaysia (ABM) in Bukit Kiara.
“I want to try and qualify for the Olympics because it will be my fifth time in the world's biggest sporting event. If I don't, I will still be happy because I've played in four previous editions (2004, 2008, 2012 and 2016).
“Zii Jia and Daren have not played in the Olympics, so it's anybody's game. Everyone has a chance of qualifying, we shouldn't underestimate anybody.
“At the previous Olympics (Rio de Janeiro), all eyes were on me to deliver Malaysia a medal, but we ended up with three through Goh V Shem-Tan Wee Kiong (men's doubles) and Chan Peng Soon-Goh Liu Ying (mixed doubles). Nobody expected that.
“The Olympics is very different, anyone can play well and there will be many upsets, just do not pressure the top players too much.
“In fact, I know everyone is very excited about the Olympics, but I think the players should focus on qualifying first. We can talk about medal targets after that,” added Chong Wei, who has yet to resume full training since being sidelined by illness.
On when he is expected to make a full comeback, the 37-year-old said: “I have got another appointment with my doctor in Taiwan next month. Once I get the green light from him, then I will make a full comeback, hopefully at the Malaysia Open.
“For now, I will stick to my three times a week training schedule and focus more on building up my muscle and getting that match feeling again.
“It isn't time to make a full comeback yet, I have to do it slowly in stages after consulting my doctor,” said Chong Wei, who made a trip back to Bukit Mertajam last week to celebrate Chinese New Year.
While in his hometown during the festive period, the 12-time Malaysia Open champion also took the opportunity to have a quick chat with Deputy Sports Minister, Steven Sim, who happens to be from Bukit Mertajam, as well.
“It was great to meet Steven back home in Bukit Mertajam. He is someone with a lot of ideas and I look forward to his contribution to the local sports scene,” added Chong Wei.