DIVER Pandelela Rinong made history as Malaysia’s first woman athlete to win an Olympic medal, the nation’s first in any sports besides badminton.
The 19-year-old Sarawakian came back from a disastrous first dive to claim the bronze in the women’s 10m individual platform at the Aquatics Centre on Thursday night.
But the celebrations were subdued, unlike that which greeted Lee Chong Wei when he won the silver medal in the badminton men’s singles last Sunday.
The badminton medal was expected and although diving had promised to deliver, not many had given them a chance after they had failed in the previous six events.
But Pandelela finally lived up to her potential and a heroic dive in the fifth round gave her a well-deserved bronze medal.
But it could so easily have been a silver if only she had not fluffed her first attempt.
But she managed to claw her way back to accumulate 359.20 points behind Australia’s Brittany Broben (366.50) and Chen Ruolin of China, who was the runaway winner with an astounding 422.30 points.
Pandelela’s first dive, a forward 3½ somersault netted only 58.50 and put her in 10th spot after the first round but subsequent dives of 64.00 (armstand back double somersault 1½ twist), 81.60 (inward 3½ somersault) and 76.80 (back ½ somersault 1½ twist) saw her back in contention.
Pandelela was in tears as she savoured a landmark medal for Malaysia.
“I feel very proud and happy because I just won a medal for my country.
“It’s really an honour. It’s a great, great thing for Malaysia,” Pandelela said.
“I feel very proud of Malaysia. I hope Malaysia is proud of me.
“Diving is not that popular like badminton. I hope this will inspire youngsters to take up diving.”
The bronze is worth RM150,000 under the Youth and Sports Ministry’s (Shakam) incentive scheme.
She will also receive a monthly pension of RM2,000.
The silver and bronze equals Malaysia’s previous Olympic best at Atlanta 1996.
Then, the doubles pair of Cheah Soon Kit and Yap Kim Hock won the silver while Rashid Sidek took the bronze.
Bryan Nickson Lomas will be competing in the men’s 10m individual platform today at the same venue.