PETALING JAYA, July 31 — Datuk Lee Chong Wei has never attended the opening ceremony of the Olympic Games.
On Friday, he will not only be in Rio de Janeiro for the curtain-raiser but will lead the national contingent of 32 athletes as the flag bearer.
He is the 15th athlete, starting with weightlifter Tan Kim Bee leading Malaya at the Melbourne Games in 1956, to be bestowed the honour.
The Penangnite, who turns 34 on Oct 21, said: “Being the flag bearer means so much to me. This is my last Olympics and to be given such an honour it’s something words cannot describe.
“I am very proud that I’ve been named the flag bearer, to lead our contingent of 32 excellent athletes during the opening ceremony. To hold the flag up high in front of a large crowd, it will be a memorable and emotional affair.
“This will motivate me and I hope to raise the Jalur Gemilang once again when I win the gold medal.” This will be his fourth appearance in the Olympics. He missed the previous three opening ceremonies in 2004 (Athens), 2008 (Beijing) and 2012 (London) as badminton was usually scheduled early in the Games.
“But in Rio, the opening ceremony is on Aug 5 while badminton starts on Aug 11. It’s good as I will have time on my side.” “I’ve achieved a number of firsts for my Rio assignment ... my first time attending the opening ceremony, my first time as the flag bearer for the Olympics and my first Olympics as a married man,” he said in jest.
He hopes to complete his series of firsts by bagging Malaysia’s first Olympic gold medal.
Lee admitted he would be lying if he said he did not feel pressured.
“It’s immense. My other athlete friends are capable of achieving podium finishes but I know all eyes are on me. I would be lying to myself and to the world if I said there’s no pressure.” Lee’s debut in Athens was forgettable, having lost in the second round. He greatly improved over the next four years and took on China’s Lin Dan in the men’s singles final in 2008. Unfortunately, he lost.
Both players, rivals on court but best of friends on the sidelines, faced-off in the 2012 edition but Lee was reduced to tears — yet again.
“I’ve learnt from the mistakes I made in 2008 and 2012. I’ve got two silver medals and now I want the gold. I know what I should do and I will not make the same mistakes again.” Lee and the other national shuttlers arrived in Rio early yesterday. Also on the flight were chef-de-mission Tan Sri Mohamed Al Amin Abdul Majid and weightlifter Mohd Hafifi Mansor.
Lee said his family has been his pillar of strength. He hopes to spend as much time as possible with wife Datin Wong Mew Choo and children Kingston, three, and Terrance, who just turned one on July 9.
“I’m going to be in Brazil for close to a month. I’ve been trying to spend my weekends with the family. Mew Choo, being a former national player, understands the game and what I go through.
“She’s been very supportive and has attended some of my training sessions talking to the coaches. She’s concerned about my well-being and always wants the best for me.
“I will miss my children but I’ll be in Rio for a mission. This is my last Olympics and I plan to make it memorable,” he said.