SINGAPORE - National diver Jonathan Chan had steadfastly avoided looking at the scoreboard after each of his six dives on Sunday (Sept 8) at the Bukit Jalil National Aquatic Centre, where he was competing in the 8th Asian Diving Cup.
The 22-year-old was so focused on his delivery that he did not realise he had won the men's 10m platform gold with his score of 407.90 until his coaches and fellow competitors congratulated him.
His achievement in Kuala Lumpur also earned him a spot in the Republic's history books, as he is the first Singaporean diver to qualify for the Olympic Games. He is also the first Singaporean athlete to earn a spot at the 2020 Tokyo Games.
China's Wang Zewei took the silver with 393.45 points and North Korea's Ri Kwon Hyok scored 347.25 to clinch the bronze. The top diver in each event at the Asian Diving Cup will automatically qualify for the Olympics.
Chan said: "I was happy, but it was more disbelief that I felt because there was a Chinese diver and they usually sweep the medals.
"I'm still in shock, it hasn't really dawned on me yet. I hope that I will be the first of many more divers to qualify and that this will inspire my teammates to work towards qualification so that we can go to Tokyo together."
National team manager Damien Ler is also hopeful that Chan's "remarkable" feat will inspire future generations of divers to aspire towards the Olympics.
He said: "We hope this breakthrough will inspire our younger divers... Everyone thought that we were below that, but now, we have someone who qualified at a continental competition."
The Singapore Swimming Association's diving programme was only re-introduced in Singapore in 2009 to groom athletes for the inaugural Youth Olympic Games held in Singapore a year later.
Ler pointed out that they have come a long way in a decade and its programme has "progressively upgraded" from a part-time coach to four full-time coaches.
National diving head coach Li Peng, who joined the association last April, has been instrumental in helping prepare local divers for major meets, he added.
Li was previously a national champion in China and won the 1984 Austrian Grand Prix in the men's springboard. He had previously coached the Chinese women's national team and Britain's national team, mentoring the likes of Olympic gold medallist Li Na (China) and three-time world champion Tom Daley.
Chan, who won two silver and three bronze medals at the SEA Games in 2015 and 2017, also said that Li has been accommodating when it comes to the divers' training schedules as they have to balance their studies with training and competitions.
A second-year student at the Singapore University of Technology and Design, Chan had initially set his sights on qualifying for the Olympics at next April's Fina Diving World Cup.
The plan now is to maintain his winning form but he admitted that it will be challenging as school starts next week.
"There's less pressure on qualifying now, but more pressure on maintaining my consistency," he said.
"This dream of qualifying for the Olympics only came within reach in the last few years. It'll require a lot of discipline, but I'll make more sacrifices when it comes to competitions."