7 Things to know about Malaysian Olympic badminton player Lee Zii Jia
'Net' your average shuttler
Lee Zii Jia’s Olympic debut at the Tokyo Games may have ended last night, but the journey is far from over for the Malaysian men’s singles shuttler.
The 23-year-old badminton hope lost to China’s Chen Long in a rubber set match (21-8, 19-21, 5-21) in the Last-16 round, after winning his first two matches against Ukrainian Artem Pochtarov and French Brice Leverdez in straight sets during the group stage.
He took to Instagram today to share a heartfelt statement: “My first Olympic ended in [the] Last-16, but [the] journey still goes on. [I was] hoping to give some motivation to all Malaysians and fans especially during this pandemic.”
“I'm sad that I can't carry the Malaysian pride and flag till the end,” he added, “[but I am] really touched and appreciate all the support and encouragement from everyone. And I'm always thankful that I have all of you, willing to listen to my thoughts and feelings. It means a lot to me.”
While we look forward to cheering Lee on at the next leg of his badminton career, here are seven things to know about the young world no. 8 shuttler.
He comes from a family of athletes
Lee was born on 29 March 1998 in Alor Setar, Kedah to Lee Chee Hin and Leow Siet Peng, both teachers and former national basketball players. His mother represented the country in the 1993 SEA Games in Singapore, while his father was the best national player at the age of 16.
With his athletic genes and towering height of 1.86 metres, he could very well have followed in his parents’ footsteps, but chose otherwise. “I seemed to excel in badminton more than basketball, and I went in that direction,” he divulged.
He started playing badminton at the age of six
He first picked up the racquet at six years old, when his father brought him to a badminton club in Kedah. “I started playing just for health reasons before improving better and better,” states his BWF profile.
After excelling at the sport in under-12 competitions, he was drafted into the Bukit Jalil Sports School. By the time he was 19, he had won his first international title at the Victor Polish International 2017 championship.
He doesn’t want to be compared with Datuk Lee Chong Wei
It’s understandable that he is often compared to former Malaysian badminton hero Datuk Lee Chong Wei, but the younger Lee prefers to focus on what he can bring to the court.
“At first, I think I couldn't handle it well because suddenly [after Chong Wei's retirement] there was so much pressure and so much hope on me because everyone was starting to [talk] about me and Datuk Lee Chong Wei,” he told Olympic Channel.
“So when I lose, then people blame me. 'Why I can't be like Lee Chong Wei, you know, always winning. Lee Chong Wei always wins.' From there, I start to feel like there's so much pressure on me,” he added.
“So what I told myself is 'I don't want to become Lee Chong Wei.' I just want to be who I am.” — Lee Zii Jia
He won the All-England five years before his senior
While he may not be on par with the senior Lee as of yet, he has shown amazing potential at international tournaments. Among his more notable accolades to date include winning a bronze medal in the World Junior Championships for boys' singles and silver for the mixed team category in 2016; a gold at the 2019 Southeast Asian Games; and conquering the All-England Open Badminton Championships in March (five years junior than his predecessor was when he achieved the same feat in 2010).
Then there’s the fact that he just made it to the Last-16 of the Olympics—a world-renowned sporting event which many athletes dream of participating in—all by the age of 23. One can certainly say that Lee Zii Jia deserves recognition in his own right.
He enjoys singing and playing the guitar
While the identity of athletes is often synonymous with the sports that they champion, Lee makes it a point to explore other hobbies outside of the court. For one, he’s often seen showing his musical side on his Instagram page—where he plays the guitar, sings, and raps in Mandarin and Malay.
According to an interview with New Straits Times, he was inspired to play the guitar by a lead guitarist in Korean pop-rock band, CNBlue, since he was 15.
He still plays basketball in his free time
Although he didn’t choose basketball as his career path, he still enjoys playing the sport. It’s in his blood, after all. His favourite basketball team is the Los Angeles Lakers, and his favourite players include Lebron James and the late Kobe Bryant. During the first MCO last year, he shared a glimpse of his shooting skills in his backyard while doing his part to stay home (spot dad in the background too!).
He has a long journey (and several Olympics) ahead of him
As mentioned, Lee is still in the early years of his career. Different badminton players peak at different ages, but history has shown (as with Datuk Lee Chong Wei’s case) that some may only reach their prime in their mid- to late-twenties. Only time and experience will tell—there's hope yet!
Hear it from the man himself: “I'm still in the starting phase of my journey. Now, I should get back to my routine, review my mistakes, correct my imperfections and train harder. I will give my best effort to make ‘Lee Zii Jia’ come back stronger on the next podium.”
All the best, Lee Zii Jia!
Follow @leeziijia on Instagram to keep up with his journey.
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