Commonwealth Games 2002
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Badminton Wednesday, 5 June, 2002, 11:39 GMT 12:39 UK
Malaysia: Where feathers fly
Wong Choong Hann in action last year
Wong Choong Hann hopefully returns to defend his title

When the Games moved to Kuala Lumpur four years ago, it was as though badminton had departed to a different planet.

The indoor racket sport acquired a dramatic change of status. From having played a supporting role it was suddenly the biggest and most popular act of the lot.

The noise of its crowds could be heard in the street and the clink-clunk of battered shuttles was audible on monitors wherever you worked.

This was the sport which could communicate to the world the direction in which an ambitious nation was going.

Three gold and four silver medals effectively made Malaysia the most successful badminton nation for the first time, even though the English, with 11, won the most in total.

Chew Choon Eng and Chan Chong Ming in action last year
Chew Choon Eng and Chan Chong Ming could be in the medals
There were all-Malaysian finals in the men's singles and doubles, and surprising silver medals for Malaysia in the women's doubles and women's team event.

Women can succeed in an Islamic nation came the subtext to the main message.

Though this was a revelation to many, it should not have been.

Even those who casually observed badminton's debut in the Olympics, six years earlier, would know that for the first five days until the athletics started it had become the most watched TV sport at the Games.

This was principally because of its huge following in South-East Asia.

Those who were in Kuala Lumpur a little earlier that year, when Malaysia won the 1992 Thomas Cup in the Stadium Negara, witnessed the most extraordinary atmosphere.

The prime minister even joined in the courtsidecelebrations and the king entertained the team for tea.

Malaysian medal hopes

There will not be anything like that in Manchester, but the Malaysians may do just as well here as in their capital.

Wong Choong Hann, a surprise Commonwealth champion, may or may not be there to defend the men's singles title.

Wong's nearest challenger could be his compatriot, Ong Ewe Hock, a former All-England finalist.

But it could just as well be Mohammed Hafiz Hashim or Lee Tsuen Seng, top 20 players both, or the dangerous Roslin Hashim.

Expect Chew Choon Eng and Chan Chong Ming to be among the medals too.

They have topped the men's doubles world rankings, but Lee Wan Wah and Choong Tan Fook, the titleholders, may not necessarily be impressed by that.

Where do they all come from? From a tradition going back sixty years.

It created the likes of legendary Wong Peng Soon, four times an All-England winner in the 1950s, with his long trousers, compulsive racket twiddling, and his motto "think big, but don't talk big."

And it produced the mighty midget, Eddy Choong, a 5ft 4in bundle of acrobatics, who was full of fun and fireworks, crashing fast cars and breeding Doberman Pinschers as well as winning four All-England titles.

There is a lot for this generation of Malaysians to live up to.

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