Cover Ng Joe Ee (Outfit: New Balance)

Malaysian rhythmic gymnast Ng Joe Ee opens up about her journey to the Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games, what motivated her to take up gymnastics, her favourite K-pop group, and more

Point of view: It’s a rainy Sunday morning. I’m sitting in the photographer’s studio in suburban Kuala Lumpur, waiting for a talented guest to join us for a special shoot to commemorate Malaysia Day. In the weeks leading up to today, she has dominated headlines across all major news outlets and was front and centre of the social media buzz, all owing to her recent success at the international multi-sport event for members of the Commonwealth of Nations. She’s none other than overnight gymnastics sensation 16-year-old Ng Joe Ee.

Read more: Tatlergram: The Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games Through the Eyes of Team Malaysia

She arrives with her chaperons—her mom and dad—and is at first shy but quickly warms up at the mention of, “Congratulations on your recent wins! So happy for you!” She beams in response.

In August 2022, the Malaysian rhythmic gymnast made history when she clinched two individual gold medals at the Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games. The debutante stunned the judges when she took the mat in Arena Birmingham in the individual ball and ribbon events and delivered mesmerising performances that put her amongst the top scorers.

The Malaysian contingent had initially gone with the pursuit of the all-around team title, which they were unable to achieve, but what transpired was something even better. Ng’s stunning ball routine earned her 29.700 points to claim victory by 0.650 ahead of Canada's Suzanna Shahbazian, while her thrilling ribbon performance propelled her to the top of the leaderboard with 27.800 points. These were feats she had to complete alone, without the presence of her family or her Russian coaches Yulia Ivanova and Udia Legotina.

See also: Commonwealth Games 2022: Team Malaysia Exceeds 6-Gold Medal Target at Birmingham

“The journey to the Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games was quite challenging because my coaches weren’t going to be there with me due to restrictions imposed by the UK government on Russian nationals. So I had to travel to the UK with another coach, and we had to train on our own. Some training sessions had to be held remotely over Zoom,” Ng shares.

“The first two days of the Games were okay but then the third day came, and Malaysia still hadn’t won any medals, so I was determined to win at least one. I won two!” she says. “I still can’t believe that I actually did it. I’m quite proud of myself because this was all hard work. I’m proud.”

Along with securing the coveted gold medals and helping Malaysia achieve its six-gold target, Ng was greeted by another pleasant surprise. “Dato’ Lee Chong Wei followed me on Instagram! I’ve always followed him on Instagram but to see him following me back I was like...!” she gushes.

Don't miss: Tatlergram: Malaysian Athletes at the Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games

I stand aside watching Ng put on a performance of a different kind as she poses for the camera. The petite sports darling exudes confidence and star quality as she strikes multiple poses with her trusty apparatus—a gradient blue ribbon—all while flashing her sweet smile. Here, she owns the 'stage' too. 

“When I was four years old, I told my mom that I wanted to wear the beautiful leotards that gymnasts would wear. They were all so pretty and brightly coloured, especially the diamond-studded ones. My mom said, ‘Well, if you want to wear the leotards, you will have to take up the sport.’ And so I did,” she reminisces. “While doing gymnastics was never my dream, I didn’t think that it was something that I would be taking so seriously. In the beginning, it was just for fun.”

Never give up! Even if you don’t get into the finals, even if you don’t get a medal, it’s okay. Just don’t give up. Love the sport, love what you’re doing.
Ng Joe Ee

We joke a little about her performances at the Games, pointing out how she was able to very quickly switch off her ‘game face’ the very second her routine and the accompaniment ended.

“That’s because by the time I’m done with a routine, I’m tired!” Ng laughs. Jokes aside, her beautiful routines at the Games, while lasting only a handful of minutes each, were the result of months, even years of hard work and tenacity. But especially for her age, and with the Fifth Form Sijil Pelajaran Malaysia (SPM) looming, how does she balance school and training?

Read more: Meet Isaac Tan, the Malaysian Triathlete with Autism Competing at the Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games

“I’m not going to lie, it’s quite stressful. We train about six hours a week with no breaks and our training time is… we finish very late. I live very far away from the Bukit Jalil Sports School and, coupled with the rush hour, it takes a very long time for me to get home. When I get home, I must then focus on my schoolwork. It’s stressful, but I have no choice. I just need to get all my homework done,” the SMK Puteri Titiwangsa student reveals.

“But in my free time, I like to eat and sleep!” she giggles. “I like dancing and singing (although I can’t sing) and listening to music. I love Blackpink!”

The year has shaped up to be the most exciting year in Ng’s gymnastics career yet—and it’s only the beginning. In parting, she shares her hopes and dreams for 2023: “For everyone to continue staying safe and to always have a positive mindset. I hope to continue carving a name for myself in the sporting world and for more chances to participate in the bigger competitions.

"I also hope to qualify for the 2024 Summer Olympics in Paris!”

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