Malaysia's Chef de Mission for Birmingham 2022 is a rugby man, and clearly remembers his country going up against the might of New Zealand at their home Kuala Lumpur 1998 Commonwealth Games.

"We can still remember very strongly how Jonah Lomu dragged one of our players from the middle of the field all the way to the try line," Dato' Shahrul Zaman Yahya says to insidethegames.

"Our little players were trying to tackle him but he carried them all the way."

Those home Games are now nearly 25 years ago but Yahya, the President of the Malaysia Rugby Union, believes a major multi-sport event could soon return to the country.

"There is certainly serious talk about us hosting a big Games in the next 10 or 15 years," he said, with the Commonwealth Games and Asian Games the possible targets.

"It is not impossible for us to perhaps host the Commonwealth Games again."

The current concern for Yahya, a vice-president of the Olympic Council of Malaysia, is preparing for the Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games in July and August.

Malaysia won seven gold medals at the Gold Coast 2018 Commonwealth Games  ©Getty Images
Malaysia won seven gold medals at the Gold Coast 2018 Commonwealth Games ©Getty Images

It is hoped that around 200 athletes will represent the country, in diving, swimming, athletics, badminton, cycling, gymnastics, judo, lawn bowls, squash, triathlon, table tennis, weightlifting, beach volleyball, hockey and rugby sevens.

Preparations, as in the rest of the world, have been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

"Of course we are looking forward to the Birmingham Commonwealth Games, but the challenge is that most of our athletes haven't been competing for the past two years, so that is the biggest challenge that we are facing right now," Yahya said.

"Fortunately some of the athletes were involved at the Tokyo Olympics so they have been in training and competed in Tokyo.

"That's very good for them but there are also a number of athletes that haven't seen competition for the past two years so that poses a very big challenge for our athletes.

"Nevertheless, our Government has implemented a sports bubble so the national athletes are training in this bubble - they cannot go out and nobody can come in. It is a very tough environment."

Yahya added that the pandemic had caused a "restless situation" for Malaysian athletes.

"As athletes, they have been active all the time but then suddenly they are down to just doing self-training," he said. "It's very tough on them.

"We have the Southeast Asian Games which is going to happen in Hanoi in May so most of our athletes will be preparing for that, and that will form part of our preparations for the Commonwealth Games too.

"We hope that this COVID situation will settle down so we can get back to normal in preparing our athletes." 

Malaysia claimed one silver and one bronze medal at Tokyo 2020, meaning the country's wait for a first Olympic gold goes on.

With a population of more than 32 million, it is one of the most populated nations never to have topped the podium on the grandest sporting stage.

Lee Chong Wei has won three Olympic silver medals for Malaysia, and there remain high hopes in badminton ©Getty Images
Lee Chong Wei has won three Olympic silver medals for Malaysia, and there remain high hopes in badminton ©Getty Images

Badminton great Lee Chong Wei came close, winning a hat-trick of silver medals in the men's singles between 2008 and 2016 as he was unable to shake off his bridesmaid tag.

It is the shuttlecock sport which has provided Malaysia most of its success at the Commonwealth Games.

The country has won 59 golds in total and 29 of these have come in badminton, with the production line of talent showing no signs of slowing down.

"Badminton of course is our traditional stronghold and of course we hope we will be achieving a few golds in badminton," Yahya said.

"We have a very young team in badminton as they did a rebuilding job of the national team, but they are looking very promising and the men's doubles won bronze at the Olympics in Tokyo.

"We are looking at these few areas, plus the sports where we won gold medals at the Gold Coast Commonwealth Games.

"At the Olympics, some of our athletes did very well in cycling, athletics and diving." 

Malaysia won seven golds, five silvers and 12 bronze medals at Gold Coast 2018, finishing 12th in the medal table.

"We did pretty well," said Yahya.

"Of course as the Chef de Mission for Birmingham I would like us to do better than the Gold Coast.

"In terms of the seven gold medals, two were from badminton, one from diving, one from lawn bowls, one for gymnastics and two from weightlifting, so those are the areas we hope to do well or better in Birmingham for us to bring back the medals.

"I did a bit of a study and we did the best in Delhi in 2010 - we were ranked seventh with 12 golds, 10 silvers and 14 bronzes.

"Of course, anyone appointed Chef de Mission would want to improve our achievement in the last Commonwealth Games and also improve the best ever achievement so far and that was at Delhi 2010.

"I think cycling will contribute a lot to our performance compared to the Gold Coast. We really hope that they will bring some gold medals this time."

But what about rugby sevens, the sport where the late Lomu made such a colossal mark in Kuala Lumpur all those years ago?

New Zealand rugby great Jonah Lomu showed his class against Malaysia at the 1998 Commonwealth Games ©Getty Images
New Zealand rugby great Jonah Lomu showed his class against Malaysia at the 1998 Commonwealth Games ©Getty Images

"Our issue has always been the disadvantage of size," said Yahya. 

"But for sevens which is not very physical compared to the 15s, we have seen some countries that have done very well despite being smaller than their opposition.

"We are still in our development phase, so we are not there yet in terms of competing against all the big rugby nations in the Commonwealth Games but it is certainly a very good experience and learning process for the boys and hopefully the girls as well.

"Hopefully, by competing with some of the top countries in the world, they will learn from that process and bring it back and share with the others so that one day we can really be a contender at the Commonwealth Games and even the Olympics."