Thursday, February 23, 2012

Leong Mun Yee is first female Malaysian athlete to qualify for four Olympics

PETALING JAYA: Leong Mun Yee earned her place in Malaysian sporting history after partnering Pandelela Rinong to secure a coveted Olympic spot in the women’s 10m platform synchro final at the FINA Diving World Cup held on a cold London night.

The Malaysian pairing survived a nerve-jangling fight to finish seventh with 307.86 points but it was enough to give them a place in an elite eight-nation field for the discipline at the London Olympics in August.
More significantly, it makes 27-year-old Mun Yee the first Malaysian female athlete to qualify for four Olympics.

Sailor Kevin Lim is the only Malaysian athlete to feature in four consecutive Olympic campaigns stretching back to Atlanta in 1996 before his Beijing swansong in 2008.

Mun Yee was only a young lass of 15 when she made her Olympic debut in Sydney in 2000 but it will be a major difference this time.

Mun Yee competed in individual disciplines in three previous Olympics but she is likely to focus on the synchro, where the duo stand a good chance to fight for a medal.

The work is cut out for Mun Yee-Pandelela, the 2009 World Championships bronze medallists in Germany and 2010 Commonwealth Games silver medallists, as they need to work on their dive consistencies as there will be no margin for error at the Olympics.

It looked like their dreams were over after they botched the third dive on Wednesday.
The Malaysian pairing also did not execute their fifth and final dive well but the damage was softened with their rivals slipping at the same time.

Three more remaining tickets went to sixth-placed Ukrainians Iulia Prokopchuk and Alina Chaplenko (308.52), eighth-placed Mexicans Paola Espinosa-Alejandra Orozco (305.34) points and Canada’s silver medallists Meaghan Benfeito-Roseline Filion (331.65).

China’s reigning world champions Chen Ruolin-Wang Hao splashed to victory in 359.58.
The duo had already qualified from the world meet last year along with Australia’s Melissa Wu-Alexandra Croak, Germany’s Christin Steuer-Nora Subschinski and Britain’s Tonia Couch-Sarah Barrow, who go in automatically as they represent the host country.

All four pairs also dived on Wednesday but it was the Malaysians who caught the eyes of the crowd in the preliminaries.

Pandelela-Mun Yee advanced to the final as the third best pair, scoring 318.42 points behind Britain (319.86) and China (340.08).

Huang Qiang-Bryan Nickson Lomas had earlier in the week earned a historic bronze medal in the 3m springboard synchro en route to becoming the first Malaysian pair to qualify for the Olympics and it was a big relief for Mun Yee to join them.

“It was our last chance to qualify and we did it. My sacrifices have not been in vain. I have put off my semester studies each year there is a major championships. Many of my course mates are already working but I have yet to graduate.
“This should be my last Olympics and I will try my best to win a medal,” said Mun Yee, who has been studying at Universiti Putra Malaysia for the last six years.

Pandelela said their third dive was a bit off and they were fortunate that it did not crush their hopes.
“The other countries all look very strong and it is going to be no different when we come back here for the Olympics,” said Pandelela, who still has one event to go at the World Cup.

She will partner Cheong Jun Hoong in the women’s 3m springboard synchro for the first time in a bid to win another Olympic quota spot.

Jun Hoong and Wendy Ng were slated to dive in the women’s 3m springboard preliminaries yesterday.
Malaysia have already earned seven Olympic quota spots out of a maximum of 12 and are set to be represented by their biggest diving squad since their first participation in Sydney in 2000.



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