THE 2016 Rio Olympics was undoubtedly a memorable one for all Malaysians, who had watched as the country’s athletes competed in the various sport events against participants from other countries. Malaysian sportsmen and sportswomen hit a high mark with the Olympic contingent garnering four silver medals and one bronze. It was by far their best performance to date.

The silver medals were courtesy of Pandelela-Jun Hoong for Women’s Synchronized 10m Platform, Chan Peng Soon and Goh Liu Ying for Badminton Mixed Doubles, Goh V Shem and Tan Wee Kiong for Badminton Men’s Doubles and Dato’ Lee Chong Wei for Badminton Men’s Singles. Meanwhile, Azizulhasni Awang had delivered a bronze medal for Men’s Keirin Cycling. The good news could not have come at a better time for the country, which is set to celebrate its 59th Merdeka Day.

RIOWhile the majority of Malaysians rejoiced over the medal count there are those who would like to dampen the mood by pointing out that it was a mixed bag of achievements. Yes, the respective athletes had several chances at winning gold but it was not to be. Of course, there is no athlete in this world who would simply compete to lose. The ultimate goal of any sporting competition is to win. It is a glorious feeling to be number one and recognized for such an amazing feat especially after years of arduous training and preparation for a world sporting event such as the Olympics. Despite getting second and third place credit should still be given where it is due and Malaysia’s athletes deserve the recognition.

This year’s Olympic event also saw politics unnecessarily come to the fore. Former DAP politician Hew Kuan Yau better known as ‘Superman’ had turned the athletes’ achievements into a racial matter. Hew had posted on his Facebook page a caricature of mixed double Goh and Chan with a caption in Mandarin stating “Listen carefully UMNO, if the Chinese really ‘balik’ China then Malaysia will ‘eat banana’ (go back empty handed) in the Olympics.”

rioRace and religion is immaterial when it comes to sports. The athletes represent their country and not their respective ethnic groups or religion. In fact, Malaysians watch with pride as the Jalur Gemilang is hoisted during the medal ceremony. Another incident that has slightly marred the mood was the unfortunate exchange between cyclist Azizulhasni Awang and the Terengganu Chief Minister. It was perhaps more suitable to bring up the matter once the Olympics had settled particularly in preparation for future competitions.

The next Olympics will be held in Tokyo, Japan in 2020. As president of the Olympic Council of Malaysia Tunku Tan Sri Imran Tuanku Ja’afar had stated, ‘The Olympics is the pinnacle of sports. There is a lot of planning involved. It is a long-term plan, nothing short term about it’. Malaysian athletes will certainly begin preparation once again in earnest. As the country looks forward to celebrating the 59th Independence Day, let us honor our athletes for their hard work and dedication. It is through sports that the nation is united irrespective or race, religion or creed. Welcome home and congratulations to our beloved athletes!