National badminton coaching director Rexy Mainaky is feeling the heat ahead of the Paris Olympics. - NSTP/MOHAMAD SHAHRIL BADRI SAALI
National badminton coaching director Rexy Mainaky is feeling the heat ahead of the Paris Olympics. - NSTP/MOHAMAD SHAHRIL BADRI SAALI

KUALA LUMPUR: He may not openly say it, but it's obvious that national coaching director Rexy Mainaky is feeling the heat ahead of the Paris Olympics.

The Indonesian maestro, an Olympic gold medallist himself, knows the immense responsibility he shoulders as the national team supremo, as anything less than a podium finish would be deemed disastrous.

Badminton is the national contingent's biggest medal contributor at the Olympics although an elusive gold medal has yet to be won. It accounts for nine out of the 13 Olympic medals won - six silver and three bronze.

This will be Rexy's second Olympic stint with Malaysia, 16 years after the first in Beijing, but it will undoubtedly be his most challenging yet.

In 2008, Rexy went as the men's doubles coach. Hopes were high on the then high-flying pair of Koo Kien Keat-Tan Boon Heong to contend for gold, but their journey ended prematurely in the quarterfinals.

There was also the fourth-seeded duo of Choong Tan Fook-Lee Wan Wah who were sent packing in the last 16.

This time, Rexy will have three pairs in three disciplines - Aaron Chia-Soh Wooi Yik, Pearly Tan-M. Thinaah, and Chen Tang Jie-Toh Ee Wei - potentially fighting for a podium finish.

"I don't think I'm feeling any pressure. If we win something, I guess everyone would be happy, but if we don't, I'll 'die'!" responded Rexy wittily, prompting laughter in the press conference room.

Rexy later said he is unfazed by the pressure and that it's not something he can avoid, it's just a matter of managing it.

"As the team leader, I certainly can't show that I'm under pressure. It would affect the team's morale. I have to manage it well.

"We all know that hopes are high for Malaysia to win its first Olympic gold medal. However, we must ensure that the players do not become overwhelmed by the pressure of winning the gold medal.

"All the players and coaches are clear about our goals, and what we want to achieve."

Rexy expressed confidence that Lee Zii Jia and the three doubles pairs have what it takes to continue Malaysia's tradition of winning Olympic medals.

"Let's not talk about whether we can win a gold medal, but I believe Zii Jia, Aaron-Wooi Yik, Pearly-Thinaah, and Tang Jie-Ee Wei all have a chance to win," said Rexy.

"Since the 2012 London Olympics, the pressure in recent Olympic Games has been different from before. Now, the competition is more open.

"Unlike the first Games in 1992, when we roughly knew who the favourites were, the overall level is closer now. Who would have thought that Kevin Cordon from Guatemala could reach the semi-finals in the Tokyo Olympics?"

"So, the most important thing in the Olympics is how players handle the situation and pressure. At the Olympics, you will see top athletes from all over the world. If you underestimate yourself, you will pressure yourself, so in such situations, you need to stay relaxed."

For the record, Rexy had a hand in Malaysia having to settle for a silver medal at the 1996 Atlanta Games, where he and Ricky Subadja defeated Cheah Soon Kit-Yap Kim Hock in the final.