#RoadToRio: 5 Malaysian athletes on their first Olympic Games
Their turn to shine
After months of anticipation, the qualifying period for the Games have ended and Malaysia is sending a total of 32 athletes in ten sports for the upcoming 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. Amongst them are both experienced players and newcomers making their debut in the Olympics scene. With this year's contingent, we've managed to secure a couple of firsts—it's the first time Malaysia will be playing in all five events for badminton—so with that theme in mind, we decided to have a chat with some of our national athletes who will be making their first appearance at the Olympic Games later this week.
JOHNATHAN WONG GUANJIE, SHOOTING
He will be the first Malaysian athlete in action at the 2016 Rio Olympic Games as the men's 10m air pistol event is on the day after the opening ceremony on 5 August. There's definitely a lot of pressure but the 24-year-old national shooter plans to set the tone for the Malaysian camp. Johnathan, who is also an aerospace engineering student at Universiti Putra Malaysia (UPM), made his breakthrough when he won a silver in the 10m air pistol event at the Singapore SEA Games and has since broken his own national records. The highlight of his shooting career was winning the gold in the men's 10m air pistol event in the Asian Olympic Qualifying Championships in New Delhi, which instantly secured him a spot for the Olympics. He will also be competing in the 50m pistol event.
When did you first discover your passion for shooting as a sport?
It was after I finished UPSR when I was 13. The Melaka Shooting Association (MSA) had a shortage of members and they were going to schools to find new talents. They went to my eldest sister's school and she joined. A few weeks after that, my dad noticed that I wasn't doing much at home so he forced me to join her as a way to pass my time. As a teenager at that time, I was fascinated with the idea of shooting a pistol (due to influences from the media) so I decided to go along with it.
Tell us about your memory of winning your first gold medal.
I don't really remember when my first gold medal was but the memory that sticks to me the most is when I won the Mini Olimpik Malaysia 2009. It was my first time breaking into the realm of 570 as I had shot a score of 574 during the qualifying round—it was a score that I would never have thought would be within my reach at that time. Not to mention, I was just a junior competing against the seniors but it's thanks to that that I have the confidence to aim higher—and that eventually led me to qualify for the upcoming Olympic Games.
What have you been doing to gear up for the Olympics?
Besides practising shooting at the range, I also go to the gym frequently for training to build up my physical endurance. There's no special diet but I always try to keep it balanced to avoid falling sick. I've also been working with my lifestyle planner from National Sports Institute (ISN) who advises me on time management for training, recovery, free time, tournaments and others, while a psychologist works closely with me to help me mentally prepare for the Games.
What do you hope to achieve in Rio?
I like to take things step by step. My main goal is to give my best performance during the Games so I won't have the regret of delivering a poor score. As no Malaysian national shooter has ever made it into the finals at the Olympics, that itself would be a great achievement for me. And if I manage to qualify, I hope I can give my opponent a good match and win a medal for Malaysia.
OOI TZE LIANG, DIVING
Born in Penang, the 22-year-old first made headlines when he became the first Malaysian male diver to win a Commonwealth gold medal at the 2014 Glasgow Commonwealth Games. And that was two years after he was the only diver who failed to make it to the Games in London. Tze Liang's quick improvement and strong mindset have been an inspiring example to his peers, especially when he won the gold medal at the 2016 Asian Diving Cup, instantly qualifying him for the 2016 Rio Games where he will be competing in the men's 3m springboard and 10m platform individual events.
What do you like best about diving?
I started diving when I was about eight years old and was representing the Penang state. I found that it wasn't an easy sport because you need to develop both mental and physical strength to overcome the challenge of jumping off the platform at such an elevated height while maintaining good form. I like that, in a way, it helps to build character and confidence.
It's your first Olympics! How do you feel?
To be honest, it was devastating for the last four years when I couldn't qualify for the 2012 Olympic Games. I've been working hard ever since and now that I've managed to clinch a spot for Rio, I get incredibly excited every time I'm on the platform and diving into the water. It just makes me feel complete.
What are some of the challenges you face in anticipation of the upcoming Rio 2016 Games?
The biggest challenge I face is myself. Physically, I've been training regularly without overexerting myself as I was undergoing rehabilitation for my leg injury; and on top of that, I have a nutritionist who helps me maintain my diet. To be mentally strong, however, I've been trying to manage the pressure by building blocks of positive thinking. But other than that, I just hope to have a good time when I'm there.
How do you destress?
Well, I like Lego games and I'm a fan of Manchester United so doing anything that relates to either of those helps me relax. Sometimes I would even window shop too!
Where do you see yourself in five years?
By then, I would hopefully have reached the standards of a world class diver and compete in various international tournaments—especially the next 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games. Besides diving, I hope to venture into dancing or martial arts.
VIVIAN HOO & WOON KHE WEI, WOMEN'S DOUBLES IN BADMINTON
There were plenty of cheers when it was announced that our Malaysian shuttlers have qualified for all five events at the Olympics—for the first time. In the women's doubles category, it will be represented by world No. 15 Vivian Hoo (26) and Woon Khe Wei (27). The two have been playing as a pair since 2010 and were champions at the 2014 Commonwealth Games.
Now that you know each other quite well, how would you describe your badminton partner?
Khe Wei: Whether it's on or off the court, she's smart and cool. During crucial moments in a game, she can be steady and handle her emotions very well.
Vivian: I would say she's very hardworking and friendly to everyone.
Tell us about your memory of winning your first gold medal.
Khe Wei: It was during the Badminton Asia Junior where I represented Malaysia in the mixed doubles event. It was an amazing feeling and incredibly memorable because no one had expected us to bag the gold medal as the team from China was really strong.
Vivian: My first gold medal came from the girls' singles competition (Under 12) at a group circuit. I was 12 and I still remember it clearly because I had hurt my knee but despite the pain, I didn't want to give up just like that. And with that mindset, I managed to win the match and immediately went to hug my dad and started crying.
Who do you look up to in the world of sports and why?
Khe Wei: Dato' Lee Chong Wei who is currently world No. 1. He is a very determined person and has both a good fighting spirit and a strong discipline. Above all, he doesn't allow others to easily take over his placing as he will keep pushing himself to achieve his goal.
It's your first Olympics! How are you guys feeling about it?
Vivian: We're both really proud and honoured to be representing the country in Rio as we know how prestigious this tournament is. I'm looking forward to doing my best at the Games.
Tell us about your training for Rio.
Khe Wei: We train everyday for six hours except on the afternoons of Wednesday and Saturday, and the whole of Sunday.
Vivian: The training is pretty tough but at the end of the day, it's all so that we can improve and perform well.
What does your diet consist of to ensure you're in your best possible shape for Rio?
Vivian: Just a balanced one with carbs, vitamins, protein and minerals.
Khe Wei: Also, we make it a point to reduce consuming oily food and unhealthy snacks.
Who do you think will be your biggest rivals during the Olympic Games in Rio?
Vivian: Everyone—but if I really have to pick, I'd say the team from China.
Khe Wei: And Japan.
PHEE JINQ EN, SWIMMING
One of Malaysia's new promising talents, 18-year-old Jinq En has been making waves ever since she splashed her way to winning the women's 100m breaststroke at the Singapore SEA Games last year. The teenager, who began swimming at the age of eight, joined the national team in 2014 and has succeeded several feats, including erasing a long-standing 24-year-old meet record in the MSSM (national sports school) swimming championships. For the Olympic Games 2016, she will be competing in the women's 100m breaststroke event.
What do you like best about swimming?
I feel that it's like the 'coolest' sport—we may not look like we're sweating but in reality, all the sweat is just washed away in the pool. In a way, it's quite fabulous. Some people have said I have talent, but I don't think so because I have literally never won anything until the SEA Games in Singapore last year. It's really all about hard work and perseverance.
Who do you look up to in the world of sports?
Rūta Meilutytė from Lithuania! She's the same age as me but she's already a world champion, holds two world records and she won an Olympic gold medal at the age of 15.
Tell us about your training and what you've been doing to prepare for Rio.
Training has been pretty tough. I swim up to nine sessions a week, and additionally, I have to do two gym sessions and two sessions of dryland workout. My day is generally morning practice, eat, sleep, eat, afternoon practice, eat, and sleep. As for my diet, I don't really watch what I eat (I just don't like salads) but I try not to take junk food. I feel that you just need to discipline yourself.
Who do you think will be your biggest rival during the Olympic Games in Rio?
Myself. As a national athlete itself, it's difficult to juggle both studies and sports at the same time and people's expectations can give a lot of pressure. But I try to ignore them most of the time and if I'm feeling too stressed, I'll just put on my headphones and listen to some music to block out all the 'noise' outside.
As it's your first Olympics, how do you feel and what do you expect?
I'm excited and nervous at the same time. We're talking about the biggest sporting event in the world here and I don't really know what to expect other than it will definitely be grand. I'm going to pack along my GoPro and have it with me at all times to capture all the moments. A month ago, I would have said winning a gold medal at my first SEA Games is my biggest achievement but now, it's qualifying for the Olympics and I don't want to miss any part of it.
What is your ultimate goal in life as a swimmer?
To inspire younger kids in Malaysia to take up swimming and I hope that one day, it will be a sport as popular as badminton in Malaysia.
Photography: Eric Chow/Blink Studio
Photography assistant: Tommi Chu
Hair: Juno Ko
Make-up: Wan Ning and Polly Yeo
Styling: Cai Mei Khoo
Styling assistants: Rachel Au and Tan Su Fen