Thursday February 14, 2013
Katrina’s having a whale of a time after choosing synchronised swimming
By ASHREENA PILLAI
IT’S two in the afternoon. Katrina Ann Abdul Hadi flashes a big smile as she walks over to the pool at the National Aquatic Centre in Bukit Jalil.
The synchronised swimmer was decked out in a sparkly swimsuit inspired by the movie Burlesque, with a dash of bright red lipstick.
The 21-year-old, whose biggest medal haul was winning five golds in the duet (with former partner Shareen Png Hui Chuen) and team events at the 2011 SEA Games in Indonesia, was getting ready to get down to business.
The eldest of three girls, Katrina’s love affair with sports began when she was five years old – with gymnastics.
Her parents – Abdul Hadi Ahmad and Canadian-born Kimberly Ann Gagnon – would drive Katrina and younger sister (national artistic gymnast) Farah Ann for lessons at the Holiday Villa in Subang during the weekends.
Having to manoeuvre her way on the balance beam – her most feared apparatus – gave her the confidence and conviction to not let anything get in the way of success.
She also started running sprint events at 11. And, a year later, began to dabble in synchronised swimming.
Wearing so many hats well meant that at the 2004 Sukma in Negri Sembilan, Katrina was on double duty for Selangor – winning gold in synchronised swimming (team) and silver in gymnastics (team).
However, in 2005, at the tender age of 13, Katrina found herself at a career crossroads.
Hoping to enter the Bukit Jalil Sports School (BJSS), the youngster had to make one of the biggest and most difficult decisions of her young life – which sport to specialise in.
“It came to a point where I had to make a decision. Although I was still new to it, I chose synchronised swimming,” said Katrina.
She, however, showed maturity beyond her age to pick a sport that was still coming to grips with – synchronised swimming.
Katrina admitted that she plumped for synchronised swimming because “I saw a better future for myself in it and that I had the potential to excel at it”.
And boy, did she make the right choice!
Katrina went on to amass 12 gold medals at the Malaysian Open (now known as the Age Group Synchronised Swimming Championships) in the solo, duet and team categories.
She also went on to become a triple gold medallist at the 2010 Asia Pacific Championships and 2012 Southeast Asian Championships. She also achieved her own personal goal by taking gold in the solo technical routine at the 2011 Sukma in Malacca.
However, Katrina stressed that “success was not served to me on a silver platter” and she had to earn her stripes just like everyone else.
“I was in great shape physically. My involvement in gymnastics and running meant I had great body awareness and stamina but I wasn’t the best swimmer out there,” she said.
Having never taken swimming lessons prior to joining the squad, Katrina spent her first year basically playing catch-up by putting in gruelling hours in the pool.
“When I first joined, I wasn’t up to scratch with the rest of the squad. My coach told me I had to get my swimming on par first. So I swam six kilometres in the pool every day for a year ... it literally took me a full year just to get on par (swimming wise) with everyone else,” said Katrina, who also had to overcome the language barrier too as she didn’t speak or understand a word of Mandarin.
“The coach (China’s Chen Meng) only spoke Mandarin and gave all her choreography instructions in Mandarin! Everyone in the team spoke Mandarin, so I realised that I had to pick it up if I wanted to succeed at the sport.”
Never one to shirk a challenge, Katrina learnt the language just by listening to her team-mates’ daily conversation.
Like every other athlete, Katrina’s one big dream is to compete at the biggest sporting stage ever – the Olympics.
Judging by her determination and dedication, the Rio de Janeiro Games in Brazil in 2016 is a distinct possibility, indeed.