THERE are very few young Malaysians who can claim to be household names in the country. Pandelela Rinong is probably top of that short list.
But soon, the Olympic bronze medal-winning diver could be making – excuse the bad pun – a big splash across the region.
Everyone’s favourite K-pop loving national athlete has been nominated for a Nickelodeon Kids’ Choice Award (y’know, the one with all the green slime) in the Favourite Asian Sports Star category, and she told R.AGE all about it in an exclusive interview when she was back in Malaysia for a day after a training stint in China.
Our crew followed her for the 20 or so hours she was back, until she flew off again for the Diving World Cup in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
The video will be coming out soon at rage.com.my, but for now, here’s part of the Q&A we had with her.
You’ve been nominated for a Kids’ Choice Award! How does that make you feel?
I feel really excited and honoured! I found out about it while I was in China, when a representative from Nickelodeon emailed me about it. It’s the first time I’ve been nominated for an Asian award, so I’m really looking forward to it.
All the other nominees are guys – Indonesian footballer Kim Kurniawan, Filipino basketball player Jeron Teng and Singaporean footballer Irfan Fandi. Have you met them before?
I’ve never met them, but I’m sure they’re all good athletes. And they’re really cute as well!
You seem to be flying all over the world these days. Where have you been, and what have you been up to?
I’ve been training in China over the past few days to prepare for the Diving World Cup, which is also a qualifying event for the Olympics. I’m hoping the Malaysian team can qualify for more events at Rio.
You’ve already been to the Olympics in London, 2012. What was that experience like?
It was a one-of-a-kind experience. It was intense, competing against the best divers in the world, but I enjoyed the atmosphere, and thankfully won the bronze medal as well.
Did you meet any superstar athletes at London 2012, and were you starstruck?
I met quite a few at the Olympic village, actually! I met Usain Bolt. He was very hyperactive and cheeky around his friends. Another one was Rafael Nadal, who looked like a very quiet guy, but he was very friendly with his fans.
It’s hardly a secret that you’re a huge K-pop fan. Which artistes are you into right now?
It’s all because of the Hallyu wave! My favourite groups are Big Bang and 2NE1 from YG Entertainment. I’ve been a VIP for eight years and Blackjack for six.
How hard is it to be an elite athlete like yourself?
To be where I am now is not easy – and it’s even harder to maintain my position. There are stronger, more talented young divers coming up, and I have to make sure I keep up with them. That’s why I always have to push myself 100% in training to be as good as them.
A lot of young Malaysians look to you for inspiration. What is the main thing you’d like to inspire among Malaysian youth?
I’m very happy that I get to inspire young people. I always want young Malaysians to to be brave, and make a difference. I want them to take risks, and never give up as they pursue their dreams.
Want to know what it’s like being an elite athlete and Olympian? R.AGE followed Pandelela around for a day to see what her hectic schedule’s like. Stay tuned to rage.com.my for the video!
But for now, you can vote for her to win a Nickelodeon Kids’ Choice Award.