If you meet Pandelela Rinong outside of the diving arena, you would not have guessed that she is Malaysia’s most successful female Olympian.
At the 2012 London Olympics, she dived her way to the 10m platform bronze medal, becoming the first ever Malaysian female Olympic medallist. It was also the first ever Malaysian medal outside of badminton. She went one better in the recent 2016 Rio Olympics with a silver medal with Cheong Jun Hoong in the 10m platform synchronised event.
However, behind the glitter of all her medals, she is still a very normal, bubbly 23-year-old girl from the Bidayuh village of Kupuo Jugan in Bau, Sarawak, who loves K-pop, horror films, and likes nothing more than a good nap and a nice hot bowl of chili pan mee.
While her athletic exploits are well known across the nation, little is actually known about what Pandelela is like in person. The “Personal Life” section on her Wikipedia page, for instance, only states that she is a fan of K-pop and anime.
So, when Star2.com was given the opportunity to interview her and show another side of Pandelela, we decided it would be fun to dress her up for a photo shoot.
This being her first real “glamorous” fashion shoot, she was noticeably shy at first, but with a little bit of coaching from designer Andy Bandy, and some tunes from K-pop group BigBang playing in the background, we witnessed the shy but giggly girl we so often see on TV slowly grow into a confident young woman who could almost pass for an actual model.
- Hair + makeup: Anita Tang of A Cut Above
- Clothes: ANDY BANDY
Every now and then, though, that infectious giggle would still ring out, reminding us that beneath all the makeup and fabulous outfits is a very normal (and very giggly) 23-year-old woman.
So it was that when we finally sat down for an interview, exhausted after the almost three-hour long shoot, we decided that the focus should not be on her sporting exploits, but what she is like outside of the sporting arena.
We started off with a few short, rapid-fire questions just to warm her up (and pad up that Wikipedia page), before going into some of the deeper, more personal questions.
Who are your favourite musicians?
Bang Bang Bang!
Favourite BigBang member?
If you could meet T.O.P, what would you say to him?
Can you sing me a song?
I love horror movies, like The Conjuring.
If you were a character in a horror movie, which one would you be?
The one that survives at the very end.
Favourite TV show?
Dean or Sam?
Horror stories, like Dark Highways by Megat Ishak.
Chili pan mee. There’s one (pan mee shop) in Sri Petaling in KL that I always go to eat.
Do you play Pokemon Go?
I used to, in Rio. But I stopped when I came back because it drains the phone battery too quickly.
What’s your favourite childhood memory?
Going to the waterfall with my family. The last time I did was when I was 13, I think, before I moved to Bukit Jalil for training.
What do you fear the most?
Leeches! I got sucked by a leech once when I was 10 years old, and I’ve had a phobia ever since.
What do you love doing the most when you are not training, studying or competing?
If you had one day to do anything you want, what would you do?
Most memorable thing in Rio not related to diving?
Meeting superstars like Novak Djokovic. And Simone Biles, who is shorter than me. I didn’t expect that! (giggles)
What question do you wish people would stop asking you?
“When is your next competition?” Sometimes when I have just finished my dive, I just want to celebrate the moment and don’t want to think about my next competition.
Is there anything you miss from before you started diving?
Almost everything. I used to be able to go wherever I want, whenever I like, and eat anything I want. I am a food lover, and I like to eat whatever I want, even though my nutritionist tells me not to. But of course if it’s close to a competition then I wouldn’t do that.
I also miss my weekends. My competitions are always on weekends, so sometimes I miss having weekends to do whatever I want.
When you started diving, did you ever imagine you would be winning an Olympics medal?
It has always been my goal. When I first started diving, my coach gave me a news clipping of (Chinese diver) Guo Jingjing, and she said, “I want you to be at the Olympics, and standing on the podium”.
Being such a public figure now, is there anything you wish people knew more about you?
I wish they would understand that I am a low profile person. I’m not comfortable with people looking at me all the time. Sometimes I just want to be normal. I just want to walk around and have fun with my friends without people staring at me all the time.
You recently hit 100,000 followers on Instagram, and have over 117,000 likes on your official Facebook page. Are you really that active on social media?
I try to post at least one photo on Instagram everyday. It can be anything, a selfie, or something I like about K-pop. But I have to be more cautious about what I post. People are always questioning what I post, and ask why am I doing this, and that ... but most of the time I ignore it and take it as a joke.
And now for the most important question of all. Do you have a boyfriend currently?
No. My friends always say I have no time for boyfriends, and that I don’t even have time to take care of myself!
Then what would your ideal boyfriend material be like?
Someone who can understand my schedule. Someone like T.O.P. He is goofy, funny, good-looking, and at the same time, he is a good rapper. And he is very cool.