A BRONZE medal in the 10m platform at the 2012 Summer Olympics in London catapulted her to superstardom in Malaysia. Yet, even with her growing popularity as the poster child of Malaysian sports, Pandelela Rinong has managed to keep her feet firmly planted on the ground.
Despite the medals and trophies she has won, deep down the 20-year-old is just a regular girl who wants to travel the world and loves all things K-pop.
Want to know her better?
Click on to reveal 10 things you might not know about Malaysia's dive queen:
1. I am Pandelela
She says her name “Pande” is similar to the Malay word “padai” (smart). But, her diving coach and friends call her Lela. And mum has a special nickname for her – Nong.
2. No diving? She’d be a gymnast!
“I love watching gymnastics, so if I wasn’t diving, I’d love to have taken up either artistic or rhythmic gymnastics, possibly perform a floor or ribbon routine. I love the colourful ribbon,” shares Pandelela.
3. The power of prayer
Every athlete has their own way to prepare for that all important match/competition. This is how Pandelela prepares: “My special routine is to call or text my family to tell them that I’m going to compete and we pray together.”
You might think this top athlete loves training, and you would be wrong. “I don’t enjoy my everyday training ... in fact I hate it (laughs). I think the plus point of that is that I get to chat and gossip with my team-mates. But I like doing gym work. And I much prefer the training sessions right before a competition. And if I’m not training, it’s sambal udang petai, chicken wings and carrot milk for me ... and seafood.”
5. Guilty pleasures
Just like a lot of Malaysians her age, Pandelela likes K-pop.
“I like to dance to catchy K-pop songs and learn their dance moves. I have to admit I’m not good at singing but I still sing along to their songs. But it’s quite embarrassing to show this side of me to people other than my friends,” she admits.
6. Budding traveller
“I’d love to travel and see the world. I do get to visit countries when I compete but if I have a competition to focus on, I can’t really enjoy the experience. I’d love to go to Seoul, South Korea, because I want to see where my K-pop idols Big Bang live and see them in concert. Next on the list is Japan … simply to see cosplay events and the sakura trees,” she says.
7. I <3 Totoro
Pandelela is a HUGE Totoro fan. Totoro is a character from the Japanese anime My Neighbor Totoro.
“I love all things Totoro. Basically, I buy anything that is associated with Totoro. I also collect Totoro toys and dolls. I have everything from Totoro bed sheets, bags, shirts, hat and stuffed toys!”
8. Biggest boo-boo
She is not perfect and not embarrassed to admit it either.
“It was a in 2010 during the diving World Series in Mexico. I was too focused and took the wrong position for the dive – it was different from the one that was called by the announcer. Then the whistle blew just before my coach called my name and I realised I was in the wrong position. I quickly changed my position and did the correct dive. But I was given zero points for the dive because once the whistle sounds, everyone should remain silent.”
9. Higher and higher
“High diving has a higher platform which is more challenging. I would like to challenge myself with that, but Malaysia does not have a high diving platform yet. If I have the chance to travel overseas and try it, I surely will.”
10. Tennis idol
Who would she like to meet at the Laureus Awards in KL on March 26?
“(Rafael) Nadal, please ... (laughs). I admire his work ethic, he’s so hardworking! And I always see him play on ESPN.”