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Sunday April 29, 2012

Diving coach has already proven his worth and deserves an extension

NATIONAL Sports Council (NSC) director general Datuk Zolkples Embong has asked diving head coach Yang Zhuliang to deliver the goods at the London Olympics first before discussing an extension to his four-year contract, which ends in October.

If that is the case, the NSC are only shooting themselves in the foot as the coach might be snapped up by other countries.

As it is, a few countries are already interested in getting the Chinese coach to train their divers after Malaysia’s stunning success in capturing 10 out of the 12 quota spots for the coming Olympics.

Australia, reportedly, are very keen on getting Zhuliang back for a second stint and, it is learnt, are willing to offer him double what he is getting here.

Zhuliang holds a permanent residence status in Australia and it won’t be a surprise if NSC’s indecision results in Malaysia losing him a second time.

Malaysian diving will be the biggest loser as Zhuliang has certainly built a good rapport with the divers with the way he has handled them since returning for the second time in 2009.

It is not easy to get the divers to be brave enough to try difficult routines but that’s what Zhuliang has done with youngsters like Pandelela Rinong and Cheong Jun Hoong.

Pandelela stepped up to the big time with a fifth-placed finish in her World Championships debut in Rome a few months later and went on to clinch bronze with Leong Mun Yee in their first partnership for the 10m platform synchro.

Pandelela climbed new heights with the Commonwealth Games gold medal in New Delhi the following year and is now a multiple medallist at the FINA Diving World Series.

Zhuliang was not in charge at the last Olympics in Beijing and the divers, including the talented former world junior champion Bryan Nickson Lomas, struggled in the preliminaries.

But Zhuliang managed to turn things around.

And now he has expressed a desire to stay on beyond the London Olympics despite having to cope with sub-standard facilities in Bukit Jalil.

It is no secret that the divers have had to contend with less than perfect facilities for the last few years, including torn trampoline and broken harness.

Zhuliang has raised the matter with the authorities but it has fallen on deaf ears.

Although Youth and Sports Minister Datuk Seri Ahmad Shabery Cheek promised to rectify things, nothing has been done.

It is unfair for NSC to expect the coach to deliver a medal at the Olympics before they are ready to talk about a contract extension.

What if Malaysia fail to win an Olympic medal in diving but the divers still make the finals for the first time in history? Does this mean that the London outing is a failure – for both Zhuliang and his charges?

The last Asian Games and Commonwealth Games performances showed that Malaysian diving is on the right track.

We won Commonwealth Games medals in diving for the first time in Melbourne 2006 with two silvers but that was elevated to one gold, one silver and two bronzes in New Delhi four years later.

At the 2006 Asian Games, we hauled in one silver and three bronzes but there was rapid improvement in Guangzhou two years ago with four silvers and five bronzes.

So, to set an Olympic medal as the target to gauge whether Zhuliang deserves a contract ext-ension is only undermining the man’s abilities.

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