SEA Games 2017

SEA Games: Springboard to future success

World champion Cheong Jun Hoong of Malaysia shows perfect poise on her way to winning the gold medal in the women's 1m springboard event at the SEA Games yesterday.
World champion Cheong Jun Hoong of Malaysia shows perfect poise on her way to winning the gold medal in the women's 1m springboard event at the SEA Games yesterday.PHOTO: EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY

Bouncing back from any injury a top priority for Cheong as champion diver is coy on goals

Cheong Jun Hoong is diving's latest darling, a little-known Malaysian who beat the favourites from China to lift the world title last month.

But few know that this 27-year-old, who won her first Olympic medal after she and her more illustrious team-mate Pandelela Rinong earned a silver at the Olympics last year, has also scored duck's eggs in competition.

This was revealed by Malaysia's national coach Yang Zhuliang in an interview with The Straits Times yesterday as he discussed Malaysian diving and the region's prospects in the sport.

His point: We all have to start somewhere.

Yang, who produced six world champions for his native China before Cheong, made reference to Filipino divers John Elmerson Fabriga and John David Pahoyo, who were mocked by netizens for botching their dives and being awarded zero points at the 2015 SEA Games in Singapore, to explain his point.

"People were laughing at them, but everyone is the same - Jun Hoong has scored zero before too," he said.

"So you must have the patience and work hard, and have enough government support... (the success) doesn't take just one day, one week or two weeks to come. It takes many years.

"Malaysia's diving team first started in 1996 and it's been 20 years, so now it has become more stable and we are seeing results."

Under his tutelage, Pandelela won bronze in the women's 10m platform at the 2012 Olympics. It was the first time a sport other than badminton had contributed to Malaysia's medal tally at the Olympics.

"Our target is a gold medal at the Olympic Games. I think Malaysia can do it, and so can Singapore, Indonesia and every SEA Games country," he added.

He said his charges travel to China for training camps two to three times a year, depending on the Amateur Swimming Union of Malaysia's budget. These trips last for about two weeks.

At home, they train twice a day five times a week.

Cheong, meanwhile, remained coy about her Olympic ambitions.

"My first priority is my body - I'll try to recover from my injuries to the best of my ability. It's only if I am healthy that I can move forward," she told a group of journalists who were intent on grilling her about her future yesterday after she won the SEA Games' 1m springboard title.

In Budapest last month, she stunned Olympic champion Ren Qian and runner-up Si Yajie to become Malaysia's first diving world champion despite a back injury.

Naturally, the media gathered at Bukit Jalil were keen to know if she had a gold target for 2020.

But Cheong merely said her targets were to be "consistent in training, and then making sure that I qualify for the Olympics".

"It's step by step for me," she added, noting that "in diving, I still think China has the highest standard in the world."

Life, she insisted, had not really changed since winning the world title.

"I'm still a normal human being living a normal life," she added.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 28, 2017, with the headline 'Springboard to future success'. Print Edition | Subscribe