PETALING JAYA, July 31 — Barely 24 hours after diving queen Pandelela Rinong booked her berth at next year’s Olympic Games, coach Yang Zhuliang backed his star pupil for another podium finish in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
Pandelela, the 2012 London Olympics bronze medallist, qualified for her third Summer Games by making the World Aquatics Championships’ 10m platform final in Kazan, Russia, on Wednesday.
Yang said Pandelela, 22, now has the time to learn new dives in preparation for Rio.
“Of course I’m optimistic she can win a medal in Brazil,” said Yang of Pandelela, who made her Olympic debut as a 15-year-old in Beijing in 2008.
“Pandelela is special. She has this spirit I’ve never seen. She’s a fighter and will make Malaysia proud again next year.”
Yang’s confidence was shared by Pandelela’s former teammates Yeoh Ken Nee and Bryan Nickson Lomas.
Yeoh, now a national juniors coach, is confident Pandelela can return from Brazil with a medal.
After the World Series ended in May, Pandelela was third in Fina’s world ranking for women’s 10m platform.
“She can deliver again in Rio. Her recent results back this up,” said Yeoh.
“Other countries are getting better but diving is subjective and anything can happen.
“If she keeps at it in the next one year, not many will be able to beat her,” added the two-time Olympian.
Bryan, who featured at three Olympics (2004, 2008 and 2012) before retiring in 2013, said Pandelela “is a rare breed because she has so much natural talent”.
“She never gives up,” said Bryan.
“To qualify for three Olympics at her age is an incredible achievement. She is living proof anyone can be successful if they work hard.”
In 2012, Pandelela became the first Malaysian woman to win an Olympic medal. Her success was also the first time the country had won a medal in a sport other than badminton.
She is among a handful of Malaysian athletes who have qualified for the Olympics three times or more, including Bryan, teammate Leong Mun Yee (2000, 2004, 2008 and 2012) and shuttler Lee Chong Wei (2004, 2008 and 2012).
Pandelela’s achievement has encouraged other divers to emulate her.
“She is a humble and hardworking person,” said Wendy Ng Yan Yee, who made her Olympics debut in London three years ago.
“She inspires me a lot and I hope to one day win a medal like her,” added the 22-year-old.