PETALING JAYA: The absence of North Korea at the Tokyo Olympics could well be a blessing for our divers.
North Korea said yesterday it would not take part in the upcoming Games in July due to Covid-19 concerns.
The announcement makes them the first country to skip the delayed Olympics.
The decision also means there will be one less threat for Malaysia to worry about, especially in the women’s discipline.
It is in the 10m platform synchro where our biggest hope of a medal lies.
Barring any injury, Pandelela Rinong should partner Leong Mun Yee for the event as they seek to repeat their superb outing at the 2019 World Aquatics Championships in Gwangju, South Korea.
The pair splashed to a silver ahead of Americans Samantha Bromberg-Katrina Young to earn an early Olympic ticket.
China’s Lu Wei-Zhang Jiaqi won the event in the absence of the North Koreans who are technically at war with their southern neighbours.
North Korea have emerged as serious contenders in the women’s platform individual and synchro events over the last few years.
Kim Kuk-hyang competed in her first international outing at the 2015 World Championships in Kazan, Russia and won the 10m platform individual gold medal.
She then partnered Kim Mi-rae to beat Pandelela-Cheong Jun Hoong to the silver in the 10m synchro in the 2017 edition in Budapest, Hungary.
A few days later, Mi-rae finished fourth in the 10m individual which was won by Jun Hoong.
Malaysian diving coach Li Rui, who is preparing Pandelela-Jun Hoong, had acknowledged the North Korean threat since last year.
“Kim Mi-rae and Jo Jin-mi would have been the pair to watch out for in Tokyo.
“They did not compete in Gwangju but they beat the Chinese to the gold at the Diving World Series in Montreal earlier.
“Mi-rae also won the platform individual title at the Diving World Series in Kazan in 2019.
“They seldom go for competitions but they are capable of producing very good female divers.”
Malaysia Swimming secretary Mae Chen agrees their absence will be an advantage for Malaysia.
“But it’s also important that our divers must seize the opportunity. We should be able to get a medal in the women’s platform synchro if our divers get it right on the day, ” she said.
At the Rio Games in 2016, Pandelela-Cheong Jun Hoong won the 10m synchro silver.