August 21:

AS a player, Yap Kim Hock, with doubles partner Cheah Soon Kit, almost reached the pinnacle of badminton twice ó first in the 1996 Atlanta Olympics and then in the 1997 World Championships. On both occasions, the pair had to settle for silver. Yap now wears a different cap, that of national chief coach and he speaks to Timesport's VIJESH RAI on the sidelines of the ongoing World Championships on his plans and targets in the buildup to the 2008 Beijing Olympics. Heading towards gold in 2008

TIMESPORT: It has been almost seven months since you assumed the position of national chief coach. How have they been?

YAP KIM HOCK: Adapting has been easy as we work as a unit in the BA of Malaysia. The administration, coaches and players are all serious about reaching our goal ó a gold medal in the 2008 Beijing Olympics. We have improved everything ó the management of the team, finance, support services. We have qualified personnel at all levels to ensure the players receive the best in terms of support.

As the chief coach, I am luckier than the previous chief coaches as badminton now is fully supported by the Government.

Q: How do the coaches get on together?

A: Perfectly. There are no problems as everyone has been delegated a task and each coach is responsible for his own players only. But as Iíve said, the common target is the same and all the coaches are bent on reaching this.

Q: Badminton is rated very highly by the Goverment and is one of the eight core sports. While this is good, it also means pressure for results are expected. Can you, the other coaches and the players live up to the expectations?

A: Getting included as a core sport is a major boost for badminton. But I agree, this means we have to deliver. The Deputy Prime Minister (Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak) mentioned (during a dinner he hosted for the squad in Anaheim) that we have to work on our consistency.

I totally agree and to prove that we are serious about living up to expectations, the target that has been set for badminton next year is three gold medals in the Melbourne Commonwealth Games, one gold in the Doha Asian Games and wresting the Thomas Cup.

These are not easy targets to attain but we must set high standards.

Q: Setting targets is fine but do we have the players who can reach them?

A: Yes, we do. I have no doubt about that. What we have to do now is fine tune them and get them on the same level as players from China, South Korea, Indonesia and Denmark. Believe me, the product is already there.

Q: While that may be the case, the results have not been forthcoming and this has a lot to do with the lack of mental strength in the players. Do you agree?

A: I have to. It is a fact that despite having so many talented players, we are not seeing results in the major championships. This was again a point raised by the Deputy Prime Minister. But we are working on that with the National Sports Councilís assistance.

The coaches too are playing a role.

Most of us are former players and some have reached the top in their playing careers. Rexy (Mainaky ó men's doubles coach) is a former Olympic champion (in 1996 with Ricky Subagja) while Cheah Soon Kit (women's doubles coach) and I were silver medallists then.

As players, we knew how to motivate ourselves and now as coaches, we will definitely motivate our players.

Q: Presently, how strong is Malaysian badminton?

A: I would say we are almost there in some sectors.

For example, we have three strong menís singles players in Lee Chong Wei, Hafiz Hashim and Wong Choong Hann while Kuan Beng Hong is coming up.

The doubles pair of Chan Chong Ming-Koo Kien Keat still need a little work but they are reaching there. We also have Lee Wan Wah-Choong Tan Fook back together again and once they start running, they will be a force too.

Fairuzizuan Mohd Tazari-Lin Woon Fui and Tan Bin Shen-Ong Soon Hock are still young and with proper exposure and grooming, they will be quality pairs too.

Soon Kit is doing a great job in the womenís doubles and Wong Pei Tty-Chin Eei Hui are ranked seventh in the world. He has two other pairs under his charge and they are coming along nicely as well.

We are also focusing on the mixed doubles with Kien Keat-Pei Tty scoring some nice results.

But one area we need to work on is the womenís singles as currently, there is only Wong Mew Choo in the senior squad.

There are several promising players in Rashid Sidekís squad (the 2012 programme) who we are looking at to promote to the senior squad.

Q: Why is it that while China just keep churning out players, we seem to only have a handful?

A: This has a lot to do with the support the China BA gets from the Government and the effectiveness of their affiliates.

But we are there now. The Government is fully behind us and this is a major step . Before this, we had a good structure but with the Government in it now, we will have a structure similar to what China has.

Q: Badminton has been Malaysiaís only medal winner at the Olympics but that too has dried up as we returned empty-handed from the 2000 and 2004 Games. What then gives you the confidence that we can win gold?

A: Let us look at the ongoing world championships. Except for China, who I agree have a steady flow of players coming through the ranks, the other major countries are represented by players who are mostly in their late 20s.

Take the menís singles for example. China will be there in 2008 but Indonesia, from the way I see it, will only have Sony Dwi Kuncoro to depend on as I believe that Taufik Hidayat, despite his age, will not be there.

Denmarkís top two singles players (Kenneth Jonassen and Peter Gade Christensen) are in their late 20s or early 30s.

Malaysia, on the other hand, have Chong Wei and Hafiz who are only 23. Beng Hong will be making his mark soon as well.

It is the same in the doubles as Chong Ming-Kien Keat, Fairuzizuan-Woon Fui and Bin Shen-Soon Hock will be established pairs by then. The Danes have started grooming their second liners but Indonesia havenít.

Believe me, with the new structure that badminton has in place now, we can deliver in the 2008 Olympics.