All or Nothing
Tatler Malaysia|July 2020
Despite the postponement of the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, three of Malaysia’s divers, Leong Mun Yee, Ng Yan Yee and Nur Dhabitah Sabri, remain diligent with their eyes on the prize, as they reveal the trials and tribulations of becoming an Olympic diver
Koyyi Chin

When asked about what success and failure meant to her, four-time Olympian Leong Mun Yee hummed, and there was a contemplative silence that hung over the studio for a moment before she finally answered. “I think,” Mun Yee began carefully, “that right now, failure isn’t something I think about—it’s not the point, and it’s not what’s important. What matters is that I tried my best and that I’ve worked my hardest to get this far.”

A LEAP OF FAITH

In 1995, six young hopefuls were chosen from the Malaysian state of Perak to represent the country in the 1998 Commonwealth Games. But only one of them debuted, and that very debutante was 13-year-old Mun Yee herself. “I joined for fun at first,” she recalls, “but after competing in the Commonwealth Games, I felt burnt out and honestly didn’t feel like diving anymore at the time.”

Taking a break from the diving scene for half a year, Mun Yee returned to the fray after receiving constant encouragement from her parents as well as her coach. “It became less of a chore and more for personal achievement—I wanted to see how far I could go.”

Fast forward 22 years later, the longtime diver has earned herself an impressive number of hard-won accolades, from being a 17-time gold medallist for the SEA Games and qualifying for next year’s Tokyo Olympics with a silver medal won alongside teammate Pandelela Rinong in July 2019 from the women’s 10m platform synchronisation event at the World Aquatics Championships in Gwangju, South Korea.

SHOULDERING A NATION

So while she gradually grew used to the rigorous, spartan lifestyle of a national athlete, the diver admits that competitive diving was still a punishingly difficult sport. Having just finished her training in the early morning before rushing for her scheduled photo shoot with Tatler at noon, Mun Yee had soldiered on without any breaks as she was needed elsewhere in the evening. She had waved away our concerns with a smile, saying, “I’ve gotten used to it but it honestly never gets easier, and the usual training intensifies for us as the Olympics near. There’s little time for hobbies, and I only get to see my family once every few months when I’m away to train.”

Such sacrifices were the norm for our national divers, whose lives (and livelihoods) revolved around the sport. For a seasoned player in the competitive diving scene such as Mun Yee, who is working on getting her master’s degree in corporate communications at the University of Putra Malaysia, she had to defer the semester due to time constraints. But letting go of the little luxuries of life became something expected of her, as the mantle she carried weighed with the country’s expectations accompanied by constant public scrutiny. “Once you start performing, people expect you to perform better and better all the time,” said Mun Yee. “And even though it’s a little heavy, it’s a motivator for me to push myself harder and a responsibility I’m willing to take.”

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