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The Women's Sports Alliance

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Pandelela Rinong: Malaysia’s history-making Olympic diver on life and legacy

“No one expected me to get to the Olympics, not even myself,” the diver tells the WSA. “I was 15 and then people really started to take notice.”


Images from @pandelela


She may not have the global profile of ‘one-name’ celebrities such as Adele, Rihanna or Madonna, but mention “Pandelela” among those in the diving community and there is not only an immediate recognition, but also an instant association with success and style.

After four gold medals at the Junior Asian Games in 2007 the then 14-year-old attained her first headlines on the senior diving tour with a maiden Southeast Asian (SEA) Games gold.

“The SEA Games gave me the motivation to train harder for the world championships and to qualify for the Olympics,” she recalls.

Eight months later the 10m platform diver would make her Olympic bow at Beijing 2008 and Asian Games as well as Youth Olympic successes would follow as well as a senior World bronze in the synchronised 10m platform event

Heading into the 2012 Olympics, she was a known quantity, but individually viewed as very much an ‘outside’ medal contender.

In front of a capacity crowd at the London Aquatics Centre she delivered the performance of her young life; claiming bronze and becoming not only her nation’s first female Olympic medallist but also the first Malaysian to win an Olympic honour in a sport other than badminton.

“That Olympic medal was the most important,” Pandelela tells the WSA.

“Not many Malaysian athletes have been able to win Olympic medals and I’m one of them, so that’s very special to me.

Ahead of the 2023 Southeast Asian Games, a competition which marked the start of Pandelela’s incredible international success story, we speak with Malaysian about her journey and future goals ahead of what she hopes will be a fifth Olympics next year.


PANDELELA’S MALAYSIAN HISTORY-MAKING MOMENTS



Pandelela, who is one of five children in her family, began diving at the age of eight and instantly “love the challenge” presented by it.

“It’s a unique sport that not many people wanted to try so I wanted to be a ‘one of a kind’ type of person who’s able to jump from the 10m platform,” she reveals.

“It takes a lot of courage, discipline and perseverance to learn the dives.

“The body goes through a lot of impact, especially from 10m and also you need flexibility, strength and it’s everything working together.

“I feel happy when I complete a new dive because sometimes when you train you know it might not happen in competition, but when it happens and you complete the dive that you wanted to it’s a great and really satisfying feeling.”

And that is an emotion Pandelela has experienced many times during her career.



In addition to the Olympic bronze the Malaysian won at London 2012, she bettered that four years later at the 2016 Games in Brazil, despite feeling the pressure to perform.

“Rio was very stressful,” she admits. “At London (2012) nobody expected me to win a medal, but the expectation was now higher and people just expected me to deliver a medal or at the very least maintain my performance.”

Despite that, she claimed silver and in the five year gap through to the delayed Tokyo 2020 Games – in 2021 – Pandelela extender her SEA Games honours list to eight titles.

She also claimed a sixth Commonwealth honour and fifth World Championship medal.



In Japan though the diver would finish a disappointing 12th in the individual 10m event and eighth in the synchronised competition.

"The preparation wasn't that great actually because of the pandemic, so it affected our training, preparation, and also our momentum,” she recalls.

"But it's all in the past so I've moved forward, I've learned lessons and I use it as a motivation to improve myself mentally and physically.”

In a post on social media after the Games she stated the “unique experience” had given her the “motivation to give it another push for Paris 2024.”

Were she to make it – and there is every chance she will after claiming both individual and synchronised bronze medals at the 2022 World Championships – then Pandelela would equal the Malaysian record of five career Olympics, held by her former diving partner Datuk Leong Mun Yee.



Now 30, Pandelela is aware she has entered her ‘twilight’ years in the sport though and while she is determined to reach the Games, she is happy with the legacy she has already created giving the record numbers of children taking up the sport in her homeland.

“Hopefully I’m still able to dive and qualify for Paris because I’m sure the youngster are coming up and it’s not going to be easy, but I will still continue to train hard,” she says with a smile.

“I always feel excited when I see a lot of youngster participate or try to learn diving and it also brings back motivation to me to keep winning and delivering for Malaysia.

“For me as a Malaysian I’m very proud to represent my country because it’s a small country where diving sport in particular is very small but we always go out there to do our best.

“We prove that Malaysians to be able to compete among the world’s best divers and it’s a dream come true.”



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