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‘I feel proud and happy, I just won a medal for Malaysia’

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What a year it has been for sport and for Malaysian athletes! The past 12 months will not be soon forgotten, especially the Olympic Games.

In the 2012 London Summer Olympic and Paralympic Games we did better than we had for 16 years.

But it wasn’t necessarily the happy ending we were all hoping for.

Datuk Lee Chong Wei was left understandably devastated, losing out to Chinese rival Lin Dan in the Men’s Badminton Singles. But he did not go down without a fight.

Until Lee Chong Wei reached his tenth point and settled into the first game, the lead had changed hands a staggering nine times. The scoreboard and the out of breath fans that filled Wembley Arena told the story that this was not going to be an easy match.

Never has there been a more deserving duo for a showdown in an Olympic final. It was even-pegging until Chong Wei, on the fast end of the court, left a return thinking it was going to fall wide. It didn’t, drifting in at the last minute – just one point snatching away his and Malaysia’s first Olympic gold medal.

A silver for our national hero almost felt like rubbing salt in the wound. But there were brighter moments to the Summer Games.

As the rest of the world cooed over Usain Bolt and his achievements in the Men’s 100 and 200 meter sprints, here in Malaysia, our hearts were elsewhere. They belonged to the 19 year old Sarawakian girl who carried the Jalur Gemilang into the stadium at the Opening Ceremony.

They belonged to Pandelela.

Pandelela Rinong anak Pamg had already made history by being the first Malaysian woman to reach an Olympic final in diving after an impressive display in the semis – but she didn’t stop there.

In the end the gold was clinched by China’s Chen Ruolin with an authoritative score of 422.30 points. But out of nowhere, Pandelela produced a series of dives that secured her a place not just on the podium, but in Malaysia’s hearts and in our history.

“I feel very proud and happy because I just won a medal for Malaysia. It’s really an honour. It’s a great, great thing for Malaysia,” she said just after the event.

“I feel very proud of Malaysia. I hope Malaysia is proud of me.”

We were also proud of track cyclist Azizulhasni Awang who was bullied by a dominant British team at the Velodrome.

Though Azizul’s two races showed he had put much thought into how to match Kenny, the Beijing Olympic silver medallist showed just why he had been picked ahead of defending champion Chris Hoy by British coaches for the sprint.

Far from disheartened by Chong Wei’s silver and a lack of other medals, Malaysians have been left wanting more.

And there was plenty more happening this year apart from the Olympic Games.

The Malaysian Grand Prix at Sepang proved to be the usual success – if not for Malaysian drivers and teams (Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso thrived in the rain to take the top spot on the podium) – then for the country.

The latest figures show that 2011’s Grand Prix generated in excess of RM200 million in economic activity, with the downstream benefits of the crowds of tourists – many of whom extend their trips across the rest of Malaysia – being self-evident.

It was a good year for motor sports in general – and not just with the announcement of a new motorsports hub in Iskandar.

Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak joined countless others in congratulating national racer Zulfahmi Khairuddin on his success in clinching the second position in the Malaysian Motorcycle Grand Prix.

Zulfahmi created history at the Sepang Circuit by winning the country’s first ever podium finish in the World Motorcycle Championships.

The torrential rain and dangerous track conditions didn’t stop the AirAsia-SIC-Ajo team rider from coming second in the FIM World Motorcycle Championship – narrowly missing out on first place.

Off the track and on the court, Datuk Nicol David delivered yet another blistering performance to show why she is the queen of the squash courts.

She delivered an effortless looking victory over England’s Laura Massaro in straight games at the finals in Grand Cayman, Cayman Islands – her fifth successive world title and seventh all together, furthering her claim as arguably the greatest squash player of all time.

Even our footballers performed admirably…

Although the national team struggled in the AFF Suzuki Cup, footballers across Malaysia can still hold their heads high after a good effort both at domestic and international levels.

At home Kelantan dominated the scene, winning three trophies in one calendar year – a first for the club. The triumphs were eased along their way by Badri Radzi. The Kelantan skipper was vital in inspiring his team to win everything in sight.

Singapore also rejoined the Malaysian Super League under the pseudonym of Lions XII after a 17 year hiatus.

In Europe, teenage star midfielder Nazmi Faiz Mansor made history for himself and Malaysian football by signing a professional contract with Portuguese Primeira Liga side SC Beira-Mar.

In doing so he became the first ever Malaysian to join a top-flight European club – surely the dream of all young footballing talent.

Still, crashing out 3-1 on aggregate to eventual runners up Thailand in the semi-finals was a crushing blow – something that will no doubt be mulled well into the New Year.

After such highs and lows, we are already looking ahead – and that doesn’t just mean the fans on the terraces.

Putrajaya is pushing hard to give more to Malaysia’s sportsmen and women – particularly the younger generations.

Constantly incentivising success, the Government is proving that it can help deliver the results that are transforming Malaysia’s sporting fortunes.

In all, RM187.2 million is being poured into sports development for next year.

“This is an increase from our previous years. The challenge for us here is simply that we don’t just spend money, but to make sure that the money will generate sporting success,” said Youth and Sports Minister Datuk Seri Ahmad Shabery Cheek.

And in order to help build create the sports stars of the future, Najib announced a RM50 million allocation in Budget 2013 to prepare Malaysian athletes ahead of the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.

Previously, the ‘Road to London 2012’ programme received a RM20 million allotment.

With such an increase on offer, there is no telling how much Malaysia’s athletes can build on their success. -thechoice