Cover Photo: Paulius Staniunas

Four Malaysian athletes share how they feel about finally heading to the Covid-19-delayed Olympics, which is set to start on July 23

Qualifying for and competing at the Olympics, the gold class of all sporting events, is every major sports athlete’s dream. The idea of representing your country, sharing world recognition with other athletes of a similar level on an international stage, and the chance to see your sports idols performing are huge honours that promise a lasting effect.

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This Olympics, 30 of Malaysia’s star athletes representing 10 sports will be among the 11,000 soon arriving in Tokyo as Japan pushes ahead with the Games. While this is historic for Malaysia as 60 per cent of the participating Malaysian contingent are females, the Games is set to be an unusual one as the competitors, as well as support staff and media, will be confined by tough and joyless Covid-19 prevention rules.

The road to this Olympics has been long, arduous, and uncertain, with our athletes training under quarantine-like conditions and persevering through tough preparations in the last two years. The hard work is only a prelude to what lies ahead for them at the Games beyond just competitive sports. Our athletes can expect a lot less splendour and celebrations, few spectators if any at all, and with no family members present to offer support.

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National artistic gymnast Farah Ann Abdul Hadi tells Tatler Malaysia that her family members are unable to be present at the Olympics, her first-ever Games. Nevertheless, the Gen.T honouree is grateful to be able to compete. “Of course, with the strict SOPs and ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, it’ll be an experience like never before. I’ll do my best to enjoy myself and compete the best I can.” Farah is only the third Malaysian gymnast to qualify for the Olympics, after Au Li Yen for Sydney 2000 and Ng Shu Wai for Athens 2004.

Echoing her sentiment is professional golfer Gavin Green, who said he would’ve loved for the rest of his family to be there. This Games would mark Green’s second Olympics, having made his Olympic debut at Rio 2016. “This year’s Olympics will definitely be different. Just the paperwork alone is monumental compared to Rio 2016. It’ll definitely be strange without the crowd but it is what it is and I’m thankful that the Games can still go on,” the 27-year-old says.

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The Games have yet to begin but the Tokyo Olympics had already been hit with Covid-19 positive cases in the athletes’ village, which concerns mixed doubles star Goh Liu Ying. The badminton darling, who bagged a silver medal at Rio 2016 alongside her partner Chan Peng Soon, says: “Naturally, we’re worried but we’ll just need to soldier on and look after ourselves well. We’ll have a lot of SOPs to follow.” Goh and Chan were the first-ever Malaysian mixed doubles pair to qualify for the Olympics when they represented Malaysia in London 2012. 

Veteran Malaysian diver Pandelela Rinong, who competed in three Olympics and already has two Olympic medals under her belt, is no stranger to the Games. Like her peers, she’s wary of the Covid-19 pandemic and cautious about staying safe and well. “I’m sure athletes are generally very disciplined people and every athlete that’s bound for the Olympics will play their part in helping to keep themselves and each other safe in order for the Games to go on smoothly,” she said.

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The 28-year-old diving champ, who became the first Malaysian female athlete to win an Olympic medal and was chosen to be the flag bearer for Malaysia at London 2012, is determined to not let Covid-19 dampen her fourth Olympics experience. “I’m excited and looking forward to competing again. Also, it’d be nice to meet up with my fellow competitors again since we’ve not seen each other much for the last two years!” the Gen.T honouree shared.

The Tokyo Olympics' opening ceremony is scheduled to take place on July 23, 2021, at Olympic Stadium in Tokyo, Japan. Malaysian fans will be able to watch the Games live on the Astro Arena Sports Channel.