LETTER | The appointment of Lee Chong Wei as the chef-de-mission to the 2020 Tokyo Olympics was a just reward for one of Malaysia’s most successful athletes.
It also made me recall a story that I was told by the late Ho Koh Chye, another successful Malaysian athlete and sports administrator.
In August 2008, Ho was also the Malaysian chef-de-mission to the Beijing Olympics.
I was in several discussions with Ho at that time on matters relating to field hockey development.
Indeed, I cherished those meetings because Ho would always have an anecdote or two from which much could be learnt.
On one occasion, before his untimely death in December 2008, he recounted this incident about Lee.
Lee's outstanding attitude
Apparently, during the Olympics in Beijing, Lee would take a bus, which connected his accommodation to the arena where the badminton matches were played.
This was his routine. Take the bus to the match. Play his opponent and return to his accommodation, also by bus, and, prepare for the next match.
Ho, as chef-de-mission, had a different routine. He visited many of the different sports arenas and stadiums where Malaysians athletes were performing.
On some days, he was visiting several arenas within a short space of time. To transport himself from one place to another, Ho was assigned a chauffeur-driven Mercedes-Benz by the Beijing Olympic Games organisers.
After Lee reached the badminton gold medal match of the 2008 Beijing Olympics, Ho recounted to me that he visited Lee and offered the use of the Mercedes-Benz provided for the chef-de-mission to transport our Olympic finalist to the arena for the game against the formidable local hero, Lin Dan.
It was a small gesture of recognition from one senior elite athlete to another younger, upcoming world champion. To his absolute surprise, Lee politely turned him down.
His routine was to take the bus and there was no need to change that and in doing so, inconvenience an elderly, respected sportsman who was also the chef-de-mission.
Ho told me that even though Malaysia did not win the badminton singles gold medal that year, his report on Lee to the Malaysian sports administrators, on his return, singled-out our badminton star for outstanding attitude and a very bright future. The rest, as is said, is history.
In October 2018, I had reason to recall this story. I am a Manchester United fan and I read a report that before the United English Premier League game against Burnley at Turf Moor, Jose Mourinho, the Manchester United Team Manager, had an unusual request from Paul Pogba, his celebrated World Cup winning French midfielder.
It is reported that Pogba asked Mourinho if he could travel back to Manchester from the away match in his chauffeur-driven Rolls-Royce (instead of the team bus, with his teammates). The media report disclosed that Mourinho turned down this request.
After the game, apparently, Pogba repeated his request and as United had won the game, Mourinho conceded, with one condition – Pogba was to start the return journey on the team bus with his teammates and ten minutes after their departure from Turf Moor, could alight the team bus and make his own way back in his chauffeur Rolls-Royce.
The champion of our hearts
On the one hand, an offer to ride in a Mercedes-Benz politely turned down and on the other, a persistent request to travel in a Rolls-Royce!
We are not here to judge the ‘super-stars’ of their respective sports. Their performance and achievements on the field or court or the road or the pool or arena ultimately define their greatness.
But, if there was a gold medal for talent, determination, attitude, courage, humility and service to a nation, I would like to think that Lee would have been a gold medallist and world champion several times.
As it was once said, “It is not that you win that only matters, it is how you win that matters more.”
Congratulations Lee on your appointment as Malaysian chef-de-mission to the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.