PETALING JAYA: One had not competed in the platform event for the last few years while the other’s a newcomer to the senior ranks of competition.
Yet, on Sunday night, seasoned campaigner Leong Mun Yee and teenager Pandelela Rinong got their acts right to nail a first-ever diving medal for Malaysia at the World Championships in Rome.
Their maiden partnership brought joy to the country when they clinched the bronze medal with 321.66 points after a thrilling fight in the women’s synchronised 10m springboard final.
And it could have been a silver.
Mun Yee-Pandelela were in second position after scoring 75.84 for the fourth dive – the second highest score.
But even a 77.52 in the final dive could not prevent them from being edged by Americans Mary Beth Dunnichay-Haley Ishimatsu for the silver.
Olympic champions Chen Roulin-Wang Xin of China retained the gold medal they won in Melbourne two years ago with a total of 369.18 points.
Mun Yee-Pandelela had briefly raised hopes of upsetting the formbook when they qualified for the final in third position.
The Malaysian pair chalked up 316.50 to finish ahead of the fancied American pair, Australia’s Olympic silver medallists Melissa Wu-Briony Cole and Mexico’s Paola Espinosa-Laura Sanchez.
The presence of diving coach Yang Zhuliang, who gave up a coaching position in Australia to return to train the Malaysian divers, must have inspired the divers.
Pandelela had finished an impressive fifth in the individual 10m platform final on Saturday.
Zhuliang left for Australia after guiding the divers to emerge as overall champions in the Manila SEA Games four years ago and that was also the last time Mun Yee competed on the high board.
“I have been training for the springboard since then but Zhuliang encouraged me to give the 10m platform a try when he came back earlier this year,” said Mun Yee in a telephone interview from Rome yesterday.
“I trained for three months with Pandelela to prepare for the world meet as her physique is about the same as mine.”
The 25-year-old Mun Yee, who has been in the national team for a decade, said they were not thinking about finishing among the medals despite being in contention going into the final.
“We just concentrated on each dive and tried to do it well. This medal means a lot to her as this is my biggest success apart from qualifying for the last three Olympics,” she said.
The Perak-born Mun Yee had just missed out on a place in the top-12 final for the individual 1m springboard earlier in the day.
She earned 242.65 points to be placed 15th in the field of 30 competitors. Mun Yee still has the 3m springboard competition to look forward to while Pandelela’s campaign is over.