Pandelela Rinong (right) and Cheong Jun Hoong
By Karina Imran
KUALA LUMPUR, June 25 (Bernama) -- When local sports fans talk about diving, only a handful of Malaysian athletes’ names will spring to mind.
Just like how badminton used to be associated with former world No.1 Datuk Lee Chong Wei, diving seems to be synonymous with Pandelela Rinong, Cheong Jun Hoong, Leong Mun Yee and Nur Dhabitah Sabri.
This is because this pool of divers have carved a name for Malaysia on the global stage by winning many international honours.
But is diving going through the same phase as badminton, which is still searching for a successor to Chong Wei, who retired on June 13?
When posed this question, Amateur Swimming Union of Malaysia (Asum) president Datuk Seri Shahidan Kassim gave a firm No, saying there is no shortage of talents coming through the ranks.
“We are not relying too much on Pandelela and Jun Hoong. We still have Nur Dhabitah and Kimberly Bong as well as other divers. They too have shown fairly good performances and are at par with the senior divers.
“Both are still young and even now they are good. They can go far in the future. We have talented divers who can be groomed but we need time,” he said when contacted by Bernama recently.
Pandelela Rinong, 25, and Cheong Jun Hoong, 28, were the major contributors of medals for Malaysia at the FINA World Diving Series in 2018, in the women’s 10m platform synchronised event.
The duo won one gold, one silver and two bronze medals at the World Series.
In 2017, Pandelela-Jun Hoong delivered one silver and one bronze while Pandelela-Nur Dhabitah won a silver in the same event.
With a question mark hanging over the achievements of the Malaysian squad after five legs of the world series this year, Nur Dhabitah has emerged as the saviour by being the sole medal winner for the country.
The 19-year-old won the bronze in women's 3m springboard in London last month.
This year saw Pandelela in action at three legs of the world series, namely in Japan, Beijing and Canada while world champion Jun Hoong skipped the tour due to a knee injury.
It is clear that without the sparkling achievements of these two, the national diving squad is left struggling for success.
Prior to this, ASUM stressed that Pandelela and Jun Hoong will focus fully on the 2019 World Diving Championships, which will be held in July in Gwangju, South Korea, as it offers qualification points for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
But based on their form in the world series this season, would the national divers be able to realise Malaysia’s dream of winning the country’s first ever Olympic gold?
National diving coach Christian Brooker stressed that much more needed to be done for the national squad before setting any target for the 2020 Olympic Games.
"Right now we are focusing on qualifying our quota spots for Tokyo and getting the confidence among athletes. Our focus is to qualify for Olympics quota in the individual events by finishing top 12 in World Championships,” he said.
For the record, Malaysia’s best achievement in Olympic Games diving was the silver won by Pandelela and Jun Hoong at the Rio Olympic Games in 2016.
Pandelela became the first female Malaysian athlete to win a medal at the Olympics when she grabbed the bronze in women’s 10m platform at London 2012.