Hi Datuk Nicol,
For the purpose of this open letter, I hope you don’t mind me addressing you as ‘Nicol’ – it’s a lot more relatable for every Malaysian out there.
Times have definitely been tough, especially for Malaysian sports. Of course, there were bright sparks, here and there. Our diving squad for instance, were absolutely brilliant at the SEA Games and they’ve been independently carrying the nation’s hope for next year’s Rio Olympics. But in general it’s safe to say that we’ve not had a memorable year.
In football, the national team slumped to a new low earlier this year, losing 10-0 to UAE. Our junior hockey team have failed to qualify for the Junior World Cup next year – which is a clear regression in standards.
Even in badminton, we struggled. Datuk Lee Chong Wei was absent for most of the year, due to the doping saga and in his absence, we never really made any impact on the international scene. Your struggles – as frustrating as it is for you – is equally frustrating for us fans, on the sidelines. Even as a sports writer, it feels odd to refer to you as the ‘world number two’.
It must be difficult. I won’t even suggest that I understand or can relate to the degree of frustration you’re probably feeling at this point, Nicol. But Liz Irving’s quotes were heartbreaking to read. Nicol, you’ve been an icon of intensity and strength for many of us. Your domination of the international squash scene is tremendous and I don’t think most of us even understand what it means. What you achieved in squash, is as great as Roger Federer’s achievements in tennis; it’s as brilliant as Usain Bolt’s accolades.
You were the world number one female squash players for 108 months. In 2001, you became the first player to have won the World Junior title on two occasions (1999 and 2001). You’ve won the Asian Squash Championships for a record of nine times and you’ve also clinched the World Open title for eight times now. Better still, you’ve won a total of 79 international titles throughout your career thus far. And that’s not too far away from Roger Federer’s 88 titles – bear in mind that he’s considered by many to be the greatest player to have ever graced tennis.
None of your achievements reflect anything ordinary. But you were just an ordinary girl from Penang, when you first started out. What changed in between? Nothing but sheer hard work. Every single accolade you’ve claimed is a culmination of the effort you’ve invested in improving yourself. All those world titles remain a symbolic sign of where consistency and focus ultimately brought you.
See, these things didn’t merely exist in a vacuum. It had trickle-down effects on every Malaysian out there. In retrospect, we are still a new country, compared to other nations. Our social fabric is still relatively fragile, particularly with all the recent political shenanigans. And in a country where differences, are more often than not dogmatized, your story and your internationally acclaimed success, are one of the few things that binds us together.
So hang in there, champion. The ongoing slump won’t last forever and contrary to popular perception, it has nothing to do with the cycle of sports. In your case, perseverance and determination will end up breaking the slump anyway. In times of trouble and despair, I’d suggest you do a quick Twitter search of your name and see the countless tributes that continuously pour in. Believe it or not, you’re a living inspiration to many. Usain Bolt was going through a major slump, before he made a dashing comeback to win 100m gold at the World Championships in Beijing, last August. Roger Federer has been associated with the word ‘decline’, for the past few years at least. But every single time, he’s bounced back and showed the world that he’s not ready to go, just yet.
But what happens if the slump doesn’t end? That doesn’t change a thing, Nicol. It’s how the world works. Everything comes to an end, at some point. But legacies never fade. Yours in particular, has absolutely zero chance of fading away. For a country that’s constantly embroiled in a subconscious battle between excellence and mediocrity, your legacy will be a constant reminder of what every Malaysian is capable of accomplishing, if they are brave enough to pursue their dreams relentlessly.
Lift your head up, Nicol. Malaysia stands behind you.