A giant step forward

In fine company: Bronze medallist Aaliyah Yoong (right) on the podium with winner Neilly Ross and silver medallist Anna Gay after the open tricks final at the World Games in Alabama.

PETALING JAYA: It could not have been a more perfect time for teenage waterski athlete Aaliyah Yoong Hanifah to make a big statement for Malaysia.

Aaliyah earned herself the perfect birthday gift by grabbing a historic bronze medal in the women’s open tricks event at the World Games in Birmingham, Alabama, on Friday.

Aaliyah, who turned 19 yesterday, skied to an outstanding score of 7,960 points in the tricks final at the Oak Mountain State Park Lake.

Competing in a select elite level final field of five skiers, Aaliyah made the top three, finishing behind Canada’s Neilly Ross (9,690) and Anna Gay of the United States (9,190), who are the current top two skiers in the world.

Aaliyah made the five-skier final after posting a score of 6,700 points to finish fourth in the preliminaries and promised to up her game to have a shot at the podium.

Her score in the final was also not far off her personal best of 8,080 points, which she had recorded during a warm-up competition in Florida last month.

More importantly, it is the first time that Aaliyah made the podium at the world stage in her pet event.

She is also the first Asian woman skier to make a podium finish at world level.

It is certainly a giant step forward for the youngster who has certainly matured and is gradually transforming into a world-level competitor ever since she broke into the scene as an eight-year-old at the 2011 SEA Games in Palembang.

Aaliyah’s father Hanifah Yoong Yin Fah said there is more to come as Aaliyah has qualified for the final in the open jump category.

“Well done and also thanks to Larry Gisler, Aaliyah’s coach for 14 years since 2008 when she was only five years old.

“Huge thanks to all the sponsors who supported Aaliyah and our sport of waterski.”

Despite being a late addition to the jump competition, Aaliyah rose to the challenge by equalling her personal best of 41.9m to finish fourth in the preliminaries.

American Lauren Morgan led the field with a distance of 49.8m, followed by Canada’s Taryn Grant (47.7m) and Chile’s Valentina Gonzalez (43.6m).

Malaysia have now won two bronze medals at the World Games. Bowlers Sin Li Jane-Natasha Roslan delivered the first bronze medal in the women’s doubles earlier this week.

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