Age’s just a number-lah!

I’m aging like fine cheese.

– Unknown

I followed diving queen Pandelela Rinong’s Tokyo Olympics events religiously despite my very tight work schedule. I won’t miss her events for anything; she’s the only Sarawakian in the Malaysian contingent, and apart from athletics, I love water sports — and that include swimming, diving and water polo.

Though I was quite disappointed she didn’t contribute any medal this time around to the nation’s two-medal final tally, what impressed me was her determination not to let the Tokyo setback dishearten her.

Remember, Pandelela is no quitter. Following her poor performance in the women’s 10m platform final and several days earlier in the synchronised 10m platform partnering Leong Mun Yee, she apologised to Malaysians and immediately displayed her agi idup agi ngelaban (fight as long as one is alive) spirit when she declared her disappointing show had only strengthened her resolve to train harder and have another go at the 2024 Paris Games.

Yes, that’s the spirit! At 28, she’s still good enough for another crack at the world’s most prestigious sporting event when she turns 31. Tokyo 2020 is her fourth Olympic outing.

She made her Olympic debut as a 15-year-old at Beijing 2008. At the 2012 London Olympics, Pandelela earned the distinction of being the first female athlete from Malaysia to win an Olympics medal and was the first Malaysian to take an Olympics medal in a sport other than badminton when she won a bronze in the 10m platform.

For her efforts, the Sarawak government presented her the Johan Bintang Kenyalang award — the first athlete to be recognised with such an award. On top of that, she also received several incentives from the government, both at federal and state levels.

The 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro sort of propelled her to national stardom when together with Cheong Jun Hoong she picked up the silver in the 10m synchronised platform, becoming the first Malaysian women’s team to win an Olympic silver medal.

Her efforts didn’t go unrecognised. The state renamed the Sarawak Aquatic Centre in Petra Jaya to Pandelela Rinong Aquatic Centre. She also received numerous cash incentives and other benefits from the Sarawak government as well as the private sector.  

For the record, the Sarawak diving star has won several international diving events including the Fina Diving World Cup in Tokyo in May this year, taking the gold medal in the individual 10m platform.

Nevertheless, the Olympics are the crème de la crème of sporting events and it’s every athlete’s dream to stand on the podium. Doesn’t matter which colour the medal is.

Coming back to Pandelela’s determination to make the Paris Olympics; no sooner had news of her intention emerged, than the social media and blogs were abuzz with comments — some good, some not encouraging, and yet others very critical.

Most of the netizens’ views were centred around her age, that in three years she would be 31.

I do not wish to put in print many of these comments, which are very discouraging. It suffices that I picked three ‘constructive ones’.

“Quite old, she would be past her prime (for Paris).”

“She will be up against much younger competitors.”

“Perhaps she should concentrate her energy on coaching and training up-and-coming divers.”

Here, I would like to quote Youth and Sports Minister Datuk Abdul Karim Rahman Hamzah’s very encouraging words at a press conference on Saturday:

“Age is just a number; it’s not that important. Don’t look at Pandelela’s age (28) and consider her too old for that (2024 Paris Olympics).

“You must have that spirit like Uzbekistan’s gymnast Oksana Chusovitina, who at 46, competed in her eighth Olympic. I was surprised to see her with other much younger competitors who are only 15 or 16 years old.

“We will always be supportive of Pandelela…”

Beautiful encouraging words from our sports minister which will certainly spur Pandelela to train harder and have another go at the Olympics.

I agree with Abdul Karim. Age is just a number!

As Jackie Joyner-Kersee, ranked one of the most successful track and field stars in history in heptathlon and long jump with six Olympic medals said, “Age is no barrier. It’s a limitation you put on your mind. It is better to look ahead and prepare than to look back and regret.”

She proved that age is just a number at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics when she took the bronze when she was 36 years old! That also when she was going through a thigh injury. 

Our sports minister was right on the dot when he said age is not a barrier.

Another Olympian who won a medal past 30 was Eddie Eagan who, at 35, took the light-heavyweight gold at the 1920 Games.

Then there was American Al Oerter who won four Olympic discus gold medals from 1956 to 1968, the final one when he was 32.  

And finally, remember Carl Lewis? He ended his remarkable Olympics career by winning gold in the long jump at the 1996 Games. His age? Thirty-five!

So, Pandelela go for it! Thirty-one at 2024 Paris is just a number!