Cover Photo: Instagram @pandelela

Pandelela Rinong will always be in first place in Malaysians’ hearts

Pandelela Rinong, affectionately known as Lela, brought cheer to Malaysians when she completed five dives in the semifinal round for the women’s 10m platform individual event at the Tokyo Olympics 2020 with 315.75 points–her gateway to the finals. With diving compatriots Ng Yan Yee, Cheong Jun Hoong, Leong Mun Yee, and Nur Dhabitah Sabri having exited their respective aquatic events, this meant that all eyes would be on Lela, for a chance of a medal in diving.

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The multi-medallist, who’s also a Gen.T honouree, has had many historical firsts with the Games. She was the first Malaysian Olympic female athlete to be accorded the honour of national flagbearer (London 2012), the first Malaysian female athlete to win an Olympics medal (bronze, London 2012), and together with Cheong, became the first Malaysian women’s team to win a silver medal at the Olympics (Rio 2016). Not forgetting, she was also the first Malaysian athlete to win an Olympic medal in a sport besides badminton.

Outside of the Olympics, she has bagged many other accolades for her achievements, including an aquatic centre named after her in honour of her Rio 2016 win. 

In speaking to Tatler about participating at an unusual Games due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the 28-year-old said she was excited and looking forward to competing again–even under unfamiliar circumstances. One month on, there she was, ready to take on the women’s 10m platform individual final, scheduled barely four hours after the semifinal event. As the clock ticked towards 2pm, Twitter became increasingly abuzz with activity as scores of netizens sent their congratulatory messages and best wishes.

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A shaky start cost the national diver a chunk of points, leaving her with the monumental task of catching up in the next four dives against 12 competitors. After five dives, Lela came in at 12th place for the women’s 10m platform individual final, marking the end of Malaysia’s diving campaign.

Despite her best efforts, at 245.85 points, the medal was far out of reach. Chinese divers Quan Hongchan and Chen Yuxi registered scores of 466.20 and 425.40 respectively, bagging gold and silver. The bronze went to Melissa Wu of Australia. This is the first time that Lela has missed out on a podium finish since her first Olympics at Beijing 2008

In true Malaysian spirit, netizens quickly took to social media to offer the diving ace words of comfort and encouragement. “You did great Pandelela! We’re so proud of you. I’m not a sports person but thanks to you, I’ve found a new interest in watching diving,” one Malaysian wrote.

“In her career, Pandelela brought Malaysia two Olympic medals. One out of six medals Malaysia has won in the Olympics since Merdeka came from her. Athletes aren’t medal machines. There are ups, there are downs. But that doesn’t change the fact she’s a legend. Proud of her! #TeamMAS," another Twitter user remarked. As many more messages continued to pour in, 'Pandelela' began to trend on Twitter.

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It’s clear that regardless of the outcome, Malaysians will always have Lela’s back. Perennially proud, forever inspired. Thank you, Lela, for all your hard work. Now, come home to nasi lemak!