THE athletic figure paces gracefully towards the end of the springboard, stretches out his arms as if he was going to fly, then bounces off the edge of the flexible launch pad.
Next, he flips and rolls and does other manoeuvres in the air during the plunge and right up to that millisecond before hitting the water, he tucks into a position that, hopefully, would result into the tiniest of plop.
Then the spectators cheer.
That choreography, lasting for just a couple of seconds, is indeed poetry in motion and the diver truly deserves that lofty ovation because such a precise execution takes years and years of gruelling practice to be achieved.
Many people would not know how intense it is for the divers, young as they may be, just to qualify for a public competition.
Diving is not much different from any other genres of sports, in that to be really good at it, one must commit time, effort, discipline, patience, and perseverance – in most cases, burning enthusiasm is a prerequisite.
An athlete must always be ready for any game, including the possibility of not winning.
The positive mind sees losing as opening a new door – it pushes them to work and train harder for the next contest.
All serious athletes go through this grind to achieve goals that are worth fighting for.
Back to the topic of diving – have you ever noticed that in an Olympic diving event, how small the splash usually is after each plunge, despite the diver executing many complicated acrobatic manoeuvres between launching off the platform and hitting the water?
What the diver is attempting is to really minimise the splash, known as the ‘water flower’, as much as possible for each plunge – similar to a gymnast getting a solid, yet graceful, landing after a jump.
This skill alone takes years and years to practice and although it is just a part of the discipline, it seems to be regarded as the benchmark for a perfect dive.
For Sarawak young athletes, this is what they are going through day in and day out, including spending hours in the gym to develop muscle strength.
Actually, a lot of the exercises are done out of water. Their routines incorporate stretching, rope-jumping, squat-jumping, pull-ups and push-ups, sit-ups, lunges and wall-stands, with some sessions using equipment such as trampolines, dry-boards and spotting belts.
After the ‘dry-land’ training, it would proceed to ‘pool time’, taking at least two hours.
Training since young
Dayang Nursharzyra Awang Nasaruddin has been training since age seven.
It has not been rosy for the 16-year-old girl, having to balance her time and focus between her studies and the sport.
There was a time when she felt like giving up diving.
“I wasn’t doing well in my studies, so I felt down. My mental health also seemed to be affected at one point.
“But my family, my coaches, and my friends gave me solid moral support and words of encouragement. That helped quite a bit – my spirit was uplifted, so I kept going.”
Her daily routine is to wake up at 4.30am to prepare for school. After school, at 12.30pm, her parents would drive her straight to the Pandelela Rinong Aquatic Centre in Kuching for training.
Lunch is packed, and she would find time to eat before the start of the training at 2.30pm.
Each session would run until 7.30pm, Mondays to Fridays. On Saturdays, she and her mates would go on from 8am until 1pm.
“I get to really rest only after the Saturday training.
“I still help out my parents at home by doing some household chores.
“Sunday is my chance to enjoy a bit, by going out with my family.
“The routine is repetitive and can be very tiring, but if we want to grab that fruit of success, don’t expect to get it the easy way.”
Dayang Nursharzyra highlights the need to keep her mind free from pressure and unnecessary stress, especially when a competition is approaching.
“Whenever a competition is coming up, I would do a lot of stretching exercises, which is important as they enhance muscle flexibility and thus, prevent injuries.
“I would do some stretching on my own, even outside training time – like spending some 15 to 20 minutes on doing it before bedtime every night,” says the young diving athlete, who bagged six gold and one silver medals from the 58th Milo-PRM MIAG Championships, held at the National Aquatics Centre in Bukit Jalil, Kuala Lumpur recently.
Her gold medals came from the Girls A’s 1m Springboard, 3m Springboard, Platform, Mixed 3m Springboard Synchronised, Mixed Platform Synchronised, and Women’s Open 3m Springboard Synchronised events; the silver was from the Women’s Platform Synchronised event.
Dayang Nursharzyra’s elder brother, 18-year-old Awang Sharzan Nasrin, also began his training at age seven.
His daily routine is not much different from that of his sister.
According to him, though, another important aspect is nutrition.
“Eating the right food, those containing the right nutrients, would certainly build the strongest and the healthiest body that would function most efficiently.
“That is why I must strictly look after my diet by following closely the advice and tips from our coaches and nutritionist.
“Whenever there’s a competition coming up, I would have to totally give up on many types of food that I like,” says Awang Sharzan.
He admits that such a routine is very taxing to the body and mind, but he also believes that all of the sacrifices are worth it as one basks in the glory of victory.
“Every competition is very challenging to me, but I feel that the 58th Milo-PRM MIAG Championships were especially tough.
“I have to confess – I brought home gold medals and two silver medals, but I was not fully satisfied with my performance,” he discloses, adding that the championships opened just after he had finished sitting for his Sijil Pelajaran Malaysia (SPM) examinations.
“I believed in actually having done it better, if only the SPM exam had not gotten in the way,” he sighs.
Awang Sharzan’s gold medals came from Group Open Mixed Platform Synchronised and Mixed 3m Springboard Synchronised, and his silver medals from Men’s Platform Synchronised and Men 3m Springboard Synchronised events.
‘Pandelela as sport’s icon’
Bronze medallist Cecelia Olivia Christopher Leoneil, 12, had never dreamt of becoming an athlete. Initially, her ambition was to become a professional dancer but now, she has embraced diving.
“Now, my dream is to become a professional diver like my idol, Datuk Pandelela Rinong Pamg,” says the girl.
“I admire her a lot. She is humble. She gets along well with everyone and she loves to joke with young divers like me. It felt so great that I could meet her during the championships in Kuala Lumpur.
“It was even thrilling that I got to have a photo taken with her!”
At the championships, Cecelia brought home bronze from Group Open Mixed Platform Synchronised and Women 3m Springboard Synchronised events.
Looking back, the girl feels that she ‘did not do well enough’.
“I felt not doing well enough in jumping off the board. Still, I am determined to do better in future competitions.”
Having been in training for more than five years now, Cecelia admits to having the thought of giving up sometimes.
“Yes, to get up and out for all those gruelling training – it can be agonising.
“But then, the prospect of meeting wonderful friends, as well as helpful and highly-motivating coaches, would bring back my good mood and spirit,” she smiles.
Eleven-year-old Nur Ikmas Darwisyah Ikeram says despite not winning any medal in the recent championships, she is happy enough to be among the Top 10 athletes.
Naturally, her next mission is to win a gold medal.
“I will train harder, listen to my coaches more attentively, and take better care of my diet.”
Her daily routine involves getting out of bed at 5am to prepare for school; lunch and some rest, after school; then to the training centre, where she must arrive before 2.30pm; training until 7pm; and home by 7.30pm.
After dinner, it is time for homework and revision, before bedtime around 10pm.
Nur Ikmas Darwisyah got her first taste of diving about six years ago. It was her parents who registered her for the training.
“At first, I did not like it,” she admits.
“It was tough, and I thought I was not strong.
“But gradually, I got better at it and began to love it.
“I want to be like Datuk Pandelela. She is my idol.”
Senior coach Rosatimah Muhammad, 37, has been coaching the Sarawak diving team since she was 22.
A former national diving athlete herself, the trainer notes that diving has gained much popularity especially following Pandelela’s victorious feats in international competitions.
“Pandelela was like a spark that ignited the flame,” said Rosatimah, also observing that the enthusiasm and commitment from the young athletes’ parents have been very encouraging over the years.
‘Give it a try’
As a way to help elevate the diving sport in the country, Rosatimah calls upon parents to encourage their children to give it a try.
“Any child, aged six and above, is welcome. Just drop by the Pandelela Rinong Aquatic Centre to register.
“We would perform some tests – if everything looked good, they would be accepted into our programme.”
According to state sports development officer Wesley Inyau Wella, currently there are five coaches – including two from China: the head coach Shi Yang, and the development coach Yin Yi Tian.
The local coaches comprise Rosatimah, together with former Olympians, Nur Hazzarina Jimie and Traisy Vivien Tukiet.
“The coaches would visit the selected primary schools once or twice a year for the TID (talent identification).
“Last December, we identified 54 new talents during our TID.
“Now we have a total of 71 athletes – five divers under the ‘Elite’ programme, 12 under the ‘Excellence’ programme, while the rest are under the ‘Start-Up’ programme,” says Wesley.
He adds that under the TID process, the coaches would be looking at the general physical fitness and one test to determine the level of fitness is the ‘static jump’, where the students would be asked to jump as high as possible.
“This jump test is a popular way to assess an athlete’s power and ‘explosiveness’.
“The strength of their legs would be observed. They (coaches) would usually select those with strong and straight legs and arms,” says Wesley.
Those selected from the TID would be asked to come to the aquatic centre, where the coaches would brief the children and their parents on the programme.
“It’s very common to see children dropping out during the start-up stage,” Wesley reveals.
“Factors include parents not being able to commit their time and effort for their children, and the children themselves not being able to endure the tough training.
“Diving is one of those sports that require a great deal of mental strength.”
Sarawak hauled 14 gold, seven silver and nine bronze medals from the 58th Milo-PRM Malaysia Invitational Age Group (MIAG) Championships, which was held at the National Aquatics Centre in Bukit Jalil, in April.
The medal tally earned Sarawak the overall championship title.
Sarawak’s national divers also delivered outstandingly, with national diving queen Pandelela splashing to gold in Women’s Open Platform category, Kimberly Bong excelling in the Women’s Open 3m Springboard event, and Bertrand Rhodict coming out tops in Men’s Open Platform competition.