Malaysia was in anguish Friday over an injury to badminton world number one Lee Chong Wei that threatens the country's only serious hope of capturing its first Olympic gold medal.
The star shuttler suffered a "minor ligament tear" in his right ankle on Tuesday at the Thomas Cup in Wuhan, China, before returning home where doctors are preparing stem-cell treatments in a desperate bid to get him fit.
Lee, 29, had set his sights on defeating his great rival Lin Dan of China in a battle for the gold medal at the London Olympics beginning in July.
Lin has repeatedly dashed Lee's dreams on the biggest stages, including in the finals of the 2008 Olympics and last year's world championships.
But Lee's hopes were now "a distant dream", the Malay Mail newspaper lamented Friday.
"If Lee had aspired to get ahead of China's Lin Dan in a major event, that now has to be on the back-burner. Reality is, perhaps, it will never happen," it said.
Sieh Kok Chi, secretary of the Olympic Council of Malaysia, admitted to AFP there was now less hope of a Malaysian gold in London.
"We just hope and pray he recovers quickly. We cannot forecast. We can only dream," he said.
Malaysian press reports said Lee would undergo treatment that involves receiving injections of his own stem cells into the injured ankle three times over a two-week period.
The cells are used to help damaged tissues heal and regenerate rather than opting for more invasive and traumatic surgery, doctors were quoted as saying.
The cells to be used were left over from a batch harvested in 2009 when Lee underwent similar treatment for a knee injury.
Lee is expected to take up to six weeks to recover, reports said, which would leave just two more weeks to work on his fitness ahead of the Olympics.
"He will be at the Olympics but we cannot guarantee him playing top level badminton," Ramlan Aziz, the National Sports Institute's chief executive officer, was quoted saying by the New Straits Times newspaper.
Meanwhile, a former top Malaysian badminton official, Goh Cheng Teik, urged Lee to skip the Olympics as it would be impossible for him to recover and play satisfactorily.
"He risks bigger injuries and humiliating defeats by unknowns," he said in a letter to the Malay Mail.
Lee's injury is the latest blow for the Malaysian, whose preparations for the Olympics have already been hampered by a shoulder problem, a bout of influenza and a series of disappointing results this season.