UNDERNEATH the confident, menacing and almost effortless displays of somersaults, high kicks and sword-play, national wushu athlete Phoon Eyin really is just a young, shy girl at heart.
In fact, she stumbled and fumbled through our interview, laughing and giggling as she spoke of her undying passion for wushu – a sport that has brought her numerous accolades, including a gold medal at the World Wushu Championships last year in Kuala Lumpur.
The win didn’t come easily, though, especially for a coy 18-year-old like herself. Unlike most sports, facial expression is also judged in wushu, as part of its technique and presentation.
Luckily, Phoon is able to put on her game face at the flick of a switch whenever she steps onto the mat. It’s an ability she has mastered through hard work and having the right attitude from a young age.
She got into the sport at the age of seven and quickly put her positive attitude to good use.
Her first competition a year later saw her picking up a silver medal, and by 16, Phoon was scouted and drafted into the national team with a punishing weekly six-day training program.
“Last year, I had the SEA Games and SPM exams at the same time. I missed a few papers, so they scored me based on my trial exam results for those subjects,” said Phoon.
It was definitely tough balancing school and training, but Phoon, who hails from Negri Sembilan, admits that perhaps the most daunting of all was missing home.
“Training so heavily has given me less time for my family,” she explained. “A lot of time is spent here (in Bukit Jalil) training, so I cherish the times I get to go back home on the weekends.”
With such a gruelling training regime, the risk of injuries are alarmingly high in competitive wushu. Coach Lim Yew Fai reckons Phoon is lucky to have only suffered minor injuries, none of which have hindered her progress.
“Many people in wushu get injured even before reaching their first gold medal, and then they have to stop training,” said Lim.
“Knee problems are extremely common in wushu. If a tendon tears, an exponent will have to go under the knife and rest for six to nine months. They can’t do anything except rehab, so, that’s time wasted.”
Fortunately, the term “time wasting” doesn’t exist in Phoon’s book. She has consistently impressed her coach by taking notes on her weaknesses, and working on them in her own training. And boy, has that paid off!
Phoon took home an award at the Majlis Sukan Sekolah Malaysia-MILO Awards in March, in recognition of her outstanding efforts in 2013. It is a significant achievement, awarded only to the top talents who have shown exceptional performance in sports.
And with that award now tucked under her belt, she will be looking to keep pushing the boundaries to top herself once again. The pressure, naturally, is mounting, but Phoon would rather play it down.
“I do feel a little bit more pressured now, but it’s necessary pressure to keep me improving and doing better,” she said. “I hope to do the best I can in all upcoming competitions.”
Rest assured, she’ll be making all the right moves to make Malaysia proud.