National Sports Council (NSC) director-general Datuk Ahmad Shapawi Ismail has hinted that Zhuliang’s service could be retained if he can work his magic to turn the 29-year-old into a top contender again.
But Zhuliang must first overcome the daunting task of getting Jun Hoong ready for a trial in March before the FINA Diving World Cup in Tokyo from April 21-26.
Jun Hoong, who has not competed in any tournament since June 2018 because of a long-standing knee problem, will have to take on Pandelela Rinong and Nur Dhabitah Sabri to earn the right to go for the Tokyo meet, which serves as an Olympics qualifier.
Pandelela and Nur Dhabitah have already qualified for the Olympics in their pet events.
The Association Swimming Union of Malaysia (Asum) will not give Jun Hoong, a Rio Olympics silver medallist, any special treatment in deciding who goes to the World Cup.
The World Cup is the last avenue for divers to qualify for the Olympics, with 18 individual spots still up for grabs.
In December, the NSC set up a special programme for Jun Hoong by reuniting her with 55-year-old Zhuliang, the man who played a pivotal role in leading her to a historic gold medal at the 2017 World Championships in Budapest, Hungary.
Jun Hoong is currently training under Zhuliang in Guangzhou, China.
“Zhuliang’s immediate task is to help Jun Hoong get ready for next month,” said Shapawi, after attending the Podium Programme Periodisation Workshop at the National Sports Council (NSC) yesterday.
“We don’t know how far she has progressed. No one will know until she takes part in the trial.”
Zhuliang will return to Malaysia with Jun Hoong for the trial. If she succeeds, he is likely to be retained as her coach until the Olympics.
“If Jun Hoong fails at the trial, that’s the end of the special programme. It all depends on how Jun Hoong performs, we will decide (on Zhuliang’s status) later on,” said Shapawi.
The NSC’s move to reunite the out-of-sorts Jun Hoong with Zhuliang is seen as a good move as she could win the Olympic gold medal if she regains her old form.
Zhuliang, who coached Malaysia from 2001-2005 and 2009-2017, was instrumental in the rise of Malaysian divers at top-level competitions including the Olympics, World Championships, World Cup, World Series, Commonwealth Games and Asian Games.
His contract was not renewed at the end of 2017 under controversial circumstances, with the Sports Ministry blaming him for allowing a “culture and environment of fear” in the national team.
Meanwhile, Shapawi said the NSC have granted Jun Hoong’s request to remain in Guangzhou despite the coronavirus outbreak.
Five divers who were based in Chengdu – Pandelela Rinong, Wendy Ng and Leong Mun Yee, Kimberly Bong and Enrique Harold – have returned home.
“As for Jun Hoong, she has asked for permission to continue her training there. In fact, she’s having the entire training facility to herself as many Chinese athletes who had gone home (for the Chinese New Year) were not allowed to return.”
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