PETALING JAYA: Diver Pandelela Rinong has become the first Malaysian athlete to check into next year’s Rio de Janeiro Olympics.
The 22-year-old from Sarawak finished eighth from 18 divers in the women’s 10m platform semi-finals to advance to the individual final of 12 divers at the World Aquatics Championships in Kazan, Russia, on Wednesday.
It could have been a better finish if Pandelela had executed her final dive better. She scored 52.80 – her lowest for the day – and it saw her slipping four spots from fourth.
The top 12 divers in the individual event are assured of a place at the Rio Olympics and her five-dive total of 338.10 points were enough for her to confirm a third successive Olympic appearance.
Pandelela failed to make the final at the 2008 Beijing Games but won a bronze at the 2012 London Olympics.
Sixteen-year-old debutant Nur Dhabitah Sabri missed out on a spot to Rio after scoring 59.20 in her final dive to finish 14th with 316.40 points.
China’s 14-year-old newcomer Ren Qian topped the semi-finals with 423.15 points ahead of defending champion and team-mate Si Yajie (395.75).
Pandelela had finished third in the preliminaries with 363.55 points while Dhabitah grabbed the last spot for the semi-finals with 307.15 points.
Pandelela can consider herself lucky as Diving World Series medal winners like Canada’s Roseline Filion, Britain’s Sarah Barrows and Mexico’s Paola Espinosa were not at their best on the day.
Filion, who won gold at the London-leg of the Diving World Series in May, finished 13th with 318.05 points while European champion Barrows was last in the semis with 283.10 points. 2009 world champion Espinosa faded out to 17th spot with 285.65 points.
Pandelela could still make a stunning turnaround and win her first individual medal at the world meet if she gets her act right on Thursday.
The divers start afresh for the final and diving coach Yang Zhuliang is keeping his fingers crossed that Pandelela can raise her game.
“Anyway, I’m happy that she has qualified early. Pandelela has not raised her difficulty level for this world meet but she now has time to learn new routines and get ready for the Olympics,” he said.
“She can have a good rest tonight. There is no pressure for the final tomorrow.”
In the men’s 3m springboard synchro final, Ooi Tze Liang-Ahmad Amsyar finished 10th with 401.37 points.