Why I think Pandelela Rinong's win is important
Yesterday, on August 10th 2012 at 3:30am, Pandelela Rinong of Sarawak, Malaysia claimed the bronze medal at the London Olympics. Her event, women’s 10m platform diving, is one of those that I don’t think about until the Olympics come round every four years. But it is fascinating to watch; the strength and consistency that these athletes boast is incredibly awe-inspiring. Did you see those armstands?!
In order to understand the significance of this win, you have to first understand that (in my experience) Malaysians have a tendency to be very negative about sports and our athletes. As a competitor, I imagine it is challenging knowing that your “supporters” at home have such a downer attitude about your ability. Sometimes, when you are playing sports, you need a little bit of a push. Sometimes it comes from your coach, sometimes from your family, sometimes from your friends. A push that will challenge you to give more than you think you have. At the Olympics, your country plays a huge part in this push and I think it would do us well if we thought more highly of our athletes.
It is a feat in itself to qualify for the Olympics. Our athletes who go - they are world class athletes. Just take a moment to think about that. World. Class. That, in itself should be enough to convince anyone they are going to do well.
This year, 30 Malaysian athletes marched into London ready to prove themselves worthy.
Thirty. That’s a lot fewer than the 500+ American athletes. Yet we still manage to qualify for a heck of a lotta final events. We’re a young country. We’re still pulling ourselves together. This sort of quality our athletes have got to offer is super impressive.
Since being away from home and constantly being asked questions about what it’s like and how we are here, I have become weirdly patriotic. Not that patriotism is weird. Just that it is a strange type of love for Malaysia that I’ve never had before, always feeling apart and a part of a place I was not born in but held the passport of. But that is a different story, for another time.
I stayed up for women’s diving because I wanted to watch Malaysia compete; I was still hopeful for a medal. I know lots of us kinda gave up, believing Dato’ Lee Chong Wei was the be all and end all, and the only chance we had at a medal. I would like to stress that this came only after he proved himself capable at the last Olympics. A lot of us were expecting a low medal tally. And by “low” I mean, we were expecting one medal. But I rejected that attitude because that attitude sucks. Where is the Olympic spirit, man?
And watching Pandelela dive was incredible. Watching her win a medal was even better. The surprise and excitement on her face looked like a reflection of my own. I felt as if I, too, had earned the medal as a reward for staying up to watch the event. For believing in her.
I thought of all the people who would wake up the next day and have no idea until they checked Facebook or Twitter. I thought about how it would be published on the front page of the newspaper a whole day later along with a story about how she deserved to bear the flag at the opening ceremony, ignoring the part about the controversy that Dato’ Lee Chong Wei’s minions cooked up to change the committee’s decision - their argument was that he deserved it more. (One of the few times I have to say that an opinion is wrong.)
Pandelela needed to win her event for herself. She has been working very hard. She’s been doing really good by us, and representing us with humility and decency.
The article in the newspaper this morning (August 11th 2012) cited her saying “I feel very proud of Malaysia. I hope Malaysia is proud of me.” This is almost heartbreaking, that she thinks we could be anything else.
Pandelela Rinong needed to win the medal for herself. She needed to win it for the country, to prove that our downer attitude is unwarranted. She needed to remind us that young people can excel, and she needed to remind us that athleticism in this country is not dead.
We all know Dato’ Lee Chong Wei isn’t coming back next year. But Malaysia has proof (which we always, inexplicably need) that we don’t need him for Olympic glory. He’s a wonderful athlete who excels as well. But he isn’t the only one we have.
Pandelela needs us to keep rooting for her, but we need her too. I’d argue that we need her more than she needs us.
We need her because she is living, breathing, diving proof that Malaysia is still in it to win it. Malaysia masih boleh. And I think we needed that.
We needed raw, unselfish talent to burst forth suddenly to shock us out of our stupor.
And I cannot be more grateful to her for that.
Thanks Pandelela, for restoring the spirit here.