K.M. Boopathy Nov 18: THE curtains were drawn on the International Badminton Federation (IBF) grand prix circuit with the conclusion of the China Open. But for Malaysia's Wong Choong Hann and his singles compatriots, they must find a way to halt the progress of the all-conquering Chinese next year. Having won seven out of the 15 international crowns this season, Chinese shuttlers are the front-runners to win the singles gold in the Athens Olympics and Choong Hann, Malaysia's best bet, has a mountain to climb. China was even more impressive as their players featured in 11 finals and three of them were all-Chinese affairs. The first half of the year clearly did not belong to China but once Xia Xuanze broke the deadlock by winning the Japan Open in April, they were practically unstoppable. Xuanze has won the all-important World Championships beating Choong Hann in Birmingham three months ago while Chen Hong, Lin Dan, Chen Yu and Bao Chunlai have asserted China's superiority in the IBF circuit. Chen Hong had retained his position as the World No 1 this year and won the Singapore and Malaysian Opens. He also has the distinction of reaching three consecutive finals in Singapore, Indonesia and Malaysia Opens but their best performer was Lin Dan who took the circuit by storm towards the end of the season. Lin Dan's China Open title was his third, after winning the Denmark and Hong Kong Opens just a week earlier. The fact that Lin Dan reached the finals of all four tournaments he competed in since October — losing only the Dutch Open final — is an indication that the 20-year-old left-hander will be a major threat to Malaysia's aspirations of clinching the Olympic gold. Choong Hann can still take heart that he won the Taiwan Open a fortnight ago and went through an 11-match unbeaten streak until Lin Dan denied him in the China Open final. This is heartwarming as Choong Hann has never maintained his consistency for two weeks and could have ended with the title in China. However, Lin Dan had the advantage of getting a walkover from compatriot Zhu Weilun and this turned the tide against the Malaysian. It could have been a tactical move to allow a more superior Lin Dan to walk through to the final but the fact is Malaysia don't enjoy this luxury. Hafiz Hashim, since winning the All-England title in February, had only reached the final of the Dutch Open while Lee Chong Wei's best achievement is a runner-up spot in the Malaysia Open. Also, as Roslin Hashim and Lee Tsuen Seng have not been performing well, which only adds pressure on Choong Hann. Overall, the Malaysian singles players have improved but they need to take a giant step forward if they want to deny China the prestigious Olympic singles gold. Lee Hyun Il of South Korea is the only other player who could hold his own as he won three titles — the Swiss, Dutch and German Opens — but the Chinese players were a step ahead in the major tournaments. In the doubles, Choong Tan Fook-Lee Wan Wah have done well to reach the semi-finals in four tournaments and finish runners-up in the Hong Kong and China Opens. They need to work harder if they want to win an Olympic medal. They managed to beat South Koreans and Olympic favourites Ha Tae Kwon-Kim Dong Moon twice in three meetings this year but do not have the endurance to go all the way. All is not lost as Malaysia has another eight months before the Olympics. With hardwork and consistency, they should be able to match the mighty Chinese in the Olympics.