Yang Zhuliang’s illustrious coaching stint in Malaysia came to an abrupt end after the National Sports Institute (NSI) decided not to renew his contract as the elite diving head coach under the Podium Programme. He flew back home to China on Sunday. In a frank one-on-one with Starsport’s LIM TEIK HUAT he reveals the ups and downs he encountered over the years he was in charge of the diving squad.
Q: You have raised the standard of the diving team in the international arena and have produced Olympic medallists, apart from the historic world title triumph of Cheong Jun Hoong. What do you think you could have done better?
A: I’m happy to leave Malaysia with many milestones for the diving team. We’ve achieved a lot but I think we could have done even better if we had more support from the relevant parties much earlier. Malaysia are still waiting for their first Olympic gold medal but we could have achieved it in 2012 if we had received undivided support from the start when I decided to come back a second time after the 2008 Olympics in Beijing.
I left for Australia in 2005 but the late Edwin Chong (Amateur Swimming Union of Malaysia secretary at that time) persuaded me to come back. I came back because I really believed Malaysia can produce an Olympic diving champion.
I left China to coach in Malaysia in 2001 because the politics there prevented my divers from getting selected for the Olympics although they were strong contenders.
I had other offers but I chose Malaysia as I believed the country had potential divers who can be groomed to do well.
I always thought Bryan Nickson Lomas was an exceptionally talented diver. His performance dropped a lot after I left in 2005.
Many times I brought up requests for better facilities and support but some things were not not attended to.
I’m thankful that we managed to get the divers to have longer training sessions in China as the facilities are better there.
Some people saw me as a troublemaker for raising these matters. But I felt that if we had paid more attention to diving from the start, we could’ve had an Olympic champion today.
Q: You were blamed for allowing an environment of fear to perpetuate in the national team. Youth and Sports Minister Khairy Jamaluddin also mentioned that you did not take steps to prevent cases of abuse involving a favourite assistant of yours, Huang Qiang. Can you comment on this?
A: I think the Sports Minister is referring to an incident involving Pandelela (Rinong) and Huang Qiang during a volleyball game.
We used to play a volleyball game where the loser get kicked. The divers really enjoyed it as they get to kick Huang Qiang when he lost. The whole team kicked him using the ball and it was all fun – nothing serious.
But there was once when Huang Qiang kicked Pandelela hard and she got angry. She scolded him using foul language and Huang Qiang raised his hand at Pandelela, who then threw a shoe back at him.
It brushed Huang Qiang’s face but fortunately, other divers pulled them both away.
I told Huang Qiang to be careful as he was a coach and had to be responsible. I told him what he could and couldn’t do.
We didn’t play volleyball after that. This happened many years ago and as for the rape incident, I was not aware until the police report was made.
I seldom mix with the athletes after training. As for Wendy (Ng Yan Yee)’s doping incident, I accept that’s my fault too. Her family gave her the health drink, not realising that it had the prohibited substance (sibutramine).
Q: A remark was made about your coaching being “old school” and you were not receptive to the use of sports science to help the divers. What are your thoughts on that ?
A: How can they say this? Not many know this but I’m a Sports Science graduate from the University of Tianjin. I’m surprised they said I’m stubborn and I’m not embracing sports science. If my coaching techniques are outdated, how did I produce a world champion, Olympic medallists and Diving World Series medallists?
In fact, I’ve received messages on F acebook from people offering their legal services. They felt that I have grounds to seek legal advice as my reputation has been tarnished. So, you tell me, what should I have done?
Q: Is Huang Qiang your “favourite son” as claimed by some?
A: We knew each other a long time ago. I was coaching in China and he was already diving in the national team at 13. But he’s not my favourite in the team. I had also coached Bryan, Cheong Jun Hoong and a few others when they were also very young at that time.
Q: It is claimed that some of the divers wanted a change in the coaching style and do not want you to continue. Is that true?
A: Maybe some of them don’t like me as they think I’m too strict. Some of them got injured as a result of training. They don’t like it very much when it comes to harness training in the dry gym but that’s the best way to be more consistent.
For example, I only trained Pandelela and Jun Hoong for the platform synchro. Pandelela trained for the platform individual under another coach for sometime but it’s okay. I’ve lots of love for them.
Q: Any regret now that your contract is not renewed in this manner?
A: Somehow, I knew my days were numbered after the KL SEA Games and I think enough has been mentioned. If there is any regret, it’s that I’m leaving without achieving my dream to produce an Olympic champion diver. Maybe one day, I’ll achieve it with another team, who knows?
Q: What is your plan after this?
A: I don’t know. I want to take care of my parents in China, who are in their 90s. I’ve been coaching for more than 30 years and don’t have the chance to take care of them due to my commitments.
It’s not easy coaching in Malaysia as you have a lot of things to juggle. I thank Malaysia for giving me this oppportunity to do my duties as a filial son. There are no coaching offers right now but I may consider it in the future. I’ll probably do coaching seminars later as Taiwan and Indonesia have invited me.