By KEVIN TAN
WE’VE all heard of our top Olympians like Datuk Lee Chong Wei and Pandelela Rinong, but there are also another 28 Malaysian athletes there in London who’re all just as eager to do us proud. Many of them are young athletes who will be at the games for the very first time. This will no doubt be an invaluable experience for them as they compete with athletes from around the world, before an audience of millions.
Tan Kim Her, the national badminton doubles coach, says some of these freshmen may spring a surprise or two with their performances: “This is the Olympic Games, where the favourites have flopped before. The unsung and unheralded have scored unexpected victories. With pressure mounting, anything can happen and we hope our players will rise to the occasion.”
Here are five of these young, talented Malaysian athletes we think you should be looking out for:
Bryan Nickson Lomas
Birthplace: Kuching, Sarawak
Sport: Diving (10m platform individual and 3m synchronised springboard)
Career Achievements: 2004 World Junior Championships – gold (3m springboard individual); 2012 World Cup – bronze. Six SEA Games gold medals and one silver and two bronze Commonwealth Games medals.
London expectations: Bryan Nickson Lomas and Huang Qiang are expected to finish strongly in the 3m springboard synchro discipline.
Competition dates: August 1 (3m springboard synchro) and August 10-11 (10m platform individual).
Malaysia made its first appearance in diving at the 2000 Sydney Olympics, but this is the first time the country has qualified for the individual and synchro disciplines.
There will be eight divers representing the country, and among them is Bryan Nickson Lomas, who will be making his third appearance in the games.
Lomas will be attempting one of the toughest and most complex dives – a four-and-a-half somersault forward dive – in his bid to win a medal in the 10m platform individual.
“Even the Chinese divers are not using it at the moment as their routines are consistent enough not to gamble unnecessarily. My problem, however, is my entries are not clean. I am also putting the finishing touches on one more difficult dive – the two-and-a-half backwards somersault with twists,” said the Sarawakian.
“If I can enter the final of the 10m platform individual event that is good enough and if I win gold medal then it is a miracle because there are several better divers competing in the event.”
Birthplace: Kuala Lumpur
Sport: Open water swimming
Career achievements: 2007 Korat Sea Games – honours; 2008 Terengganu Sukma – honours; 2011 Jakarta Sea Games – two gold medals (5km and 10km).
London expectations: Still relatively new to the sport, Heidi is aiming to finish as high as possible in the field of 25 swimmers
Competition date: August 9
Heidi Gan is the very first Malaysian to qualify for the Olympics in the open water swimming category. Having won honours in the 2008 Terengganu Sukma and 2007 Korat Sea Games, Gan is no stranger to the water race sport in the pool.
However, as she pursued her studies in law and commerce in Perth, Australia, she happened to find her calling in the open seas.
And her calling was true – Gan followed her heart to win two gold medals at the Jakarta Sea Games last year in the 5km and 10km swims. She even survived a potentially dangerous jellyfish sting!
Gan created history by getting a spot in the Olympics as she swam through the waters of Setubal Bay in Portugal.
The Sarawakian says it was not easy for her as she had to juggle training, studying and work in Perth, Australia, where she is currently based.
“Before the Olympic qualifier in Portugal, I was also working two days a week. It got a little hectic so I quit a few weeks before I left for Portugal in order to focus on the swimming,” said Gan, who worked in a law firm. “I have also deferred my studies to live my Olympic dream.”
Gan will be up for a great challenge at the Olympics as she takes on 24 other top swimmers in the open waters of the Serpentine lake in London’s Hyde Park.
Birthplace: Kuala Terengganu, Terengganu
Sport: Cycling track
Career achievements: 2004 Malaysia Games – gold (women’s road race); 2011 Jakarta Sea Games – three gold (200m sprint, team sprint, and 500m time trial); 2012 Asian Championships – gold.
London expectations: Hoping to reach the keirin final
Competition date: August 3
Ranked 13th in the world, Fatehah is Malaysia’s hope in the cycling track category. The track rider has never failed to shine since the start of her career and the London Olympics will be another stage for her to showcase her talent.
Fatehah has already exceeded expectations, as the Malaysian National Cycling Federation (MNCF) had only expected her to qualify for the 2016 Olympics.
Fatehah and her teammate Azizulhasni Awang are among the Muslim athletes in the Malaysian contingent, and they have decided to postpone their fasting for Ramadan until after the games are over.
“For sure I’m going to give it my all. My first target is to make the final. Everything will be towards that. When I make the final, then anything can happen,” said Fatehah.
“With the right strategy and if everything goes my way, I may be in with a shot for a medal.”
Tee Jing Yi
Sport: Badminton (singles)
Career achievements: 2007 Asia Youth Under 19 Championships – Silver (doubles); 2008 Asean Schools – gold (singles); 2009 Dutch Junior International – Silver (mixed doubles); 2010 Vietnam International Challenge – gold (singles).
London expectations: To win a match in her group and work on her defensive game
Competition dates: July 28 – August 4
The retirement of top Malaysian women’s singles badminton player Wong Mew Choo has left a gaping hole in the sport, and Tee is hoping to fill that void.
“At this stage, I’m not as good as Mew Choo yet. But I intend to close the gap and become Malaysia’s most reliable women’s singles player,” said Tee, the current world No. 59.
Tee is looking forward to her first appearance in the games.
“My previous major competitions were the SEA Games and Uber Cup Finals. I have yet to even compete in the individual event of the Asian Games. So, I’m still very excited about my coming Olympic debut. It’s a dream come true,” said Tee.
Set to be the only badminton player representing Malaysia in the women’s singles category, Tee is going to be up against outstanding Chinese shuttlers like Wang Yihan, Wang Xin and Wang Shixian. In fact, China have named all their three Wangs in a bid to win all top three medals.
“There are so many good women’s singles players and of course, China will be the favourites. I will be more than happy to beat at least one person in my group,” said Tee.
Yu Peng Kean
Career Achievements: 2011 Indonesia Sea Games – gold (sabre team); 2011 Asian Fencing Championships – seventh (individual sabre event).
London expectations: Top 16 finish in men’s individual sabre
Competition dates: July 29
Yu is more than honoured to be the first Malaysian fencer in 48 years to compete at the Olympics.
“I was over the moon when the Malaysian Fencing Federation (MFF) told me of the news that I had qualified for the Olympics,” said Yu,
On top of that, being ranked 64th in the world didn’t just earn him a ticket to London, but also made him the second highest ranked Asian at the games.
The Malaccan has been working hard, having gone on training stints in Rome, Italy and Guangzhou, China earlier in the year.
“I expect that the competition will be very tough. However, I definitely will give it my all at the Games.”
Yu is aiming to make it to the top eight and to increase the profile of fencing in Malaysia.
“My main objective at the Olympics will be to gain as much experience and exposure competing against the best fencers in the world,” said Yu.