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Southeast Asia hopes on badminton at Asian Games

September 12, 2014

SINGAPORE (AP) — With badminton players once again shouldering Southeast Asia’s hopes for gold medals at the Asian Games, Lee Chong Wei knows he needs to quickly put a disappointing loss at the world championships behind him to stand any chance against strong Chinese and South Korean squads.

The Malaysian shuttler, No. 1 in the world rankings, said he would have to improve significantly on his performance in Copenhagen last month, where he lost to Chen Long of China. Ominously for Southeast Asia, China and South Korea dominated the standings at the worlds, with seven and four medals respectively.

“The Chinese, Korean and Indonesian shuttlers will be out in full force,” Lee said. “So I will have to fortify my mental strength.”

Indonesia, a former badminton powerhouse that has struggled to produce champions in recent years, is sending 18 players, and is hoping for gold in the mixed doubles

“It doesn’t mean that we are pessimistic about the others, but the fact is that this is our best chance,” team manager Lius Pongoh said.

Pongoh said the country had set a target of nine golds across all sports, more than twice the tally it picked up at the 2010 Asian Games in Guangzhou, China. Other medals are expected in weightlifting, karate and archery.

Outside of badminton, Malaysia is aiming for gold in the female squash competition from world No. 1 Nicol David. The 31-year-old David, arguably the best female player of the modern era, won the Hong Kong Open for the ninth-consecutive time last month and also picked up gold at the Commonwealth Games.

Southeast Asia’s nations struggle to compete against the well-drilled and well-funded squads from China, South Korea and Japan in most sports. Other than badminton, the region’s other main hopes for medals will be in sports such as archery, shooting, weightlifting and sepak takraw — or kick volleyball — which is native to the region.

Nicol David is one of a contingent of 425 athletes and officials attending from Malaysia, which dropped initial plans to contest events including fencing and triathlon because sports authorities didn’t think the athletes were up to form.

“The games will be challenging for sure, but our athletes have trained hard,” Malaysian contingent chief Danyal Balagopal said. “I tell them that whatever they do, they must give their best.”

David, who has three Asian Games singles titles to her name, is the favorite in the singles, but she also fancied the chances of the women’s squad to retain the team title it won at Guangzhou.

“We have a good team, just like four years ago,” she said

Myanmar is competing in just 10 of the 42 sports, but has high hopes for gold medals in sepak takraw, where it picked up two golds in 2010, said sports official Kyaw Hsan Oo.

Vietnam, which had been named the host of the 2019 games but backed out in April citing lack of funds, said it would be satisfied with two or three golds medals at Incheon.

“We should not set a high target because the Asian Games are highly competitive,” said Hoang Vinh Giang, the vice president of the Vietnam Olympic Committee.

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Associated Press writer Ali Kotarumalos in Jakarta, Indonesia, Eileen Ng in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, Aye Aye Win in Yangon, Myanmar and Tran Van Minh in Hanoi, Vietnam contributed to this report.

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