There must be an exhilaration to standing on a podium while your country’s national anthem blasts through a PA system. That’s a privilege a select few of us are privy to, and it’s a sure bet our very own Malaysian Olympians have heard that soaring tune on more than one occasion.

Now that the Euros are over, the sporting world is tuning in to the global showpiece in Brazil, the Rio 2016 Olympics, which starts Aug 5, and even against a backdrop of a health epidemic, promises plenty of thrills and spills.

There’ll be heartbreak, just as there will be euphoria. And in between the tales of the agony of defeat and the satisfaction of victory, Malaysian Olympians, high jumper Nauraj Singh Randhawa, sailor Nur Shazrin Mohamad Latif and golfer Kelly Tan, will look to carve a space in time for their sporting exploits.

The three may come from very different backgrounds and upbringing, but in the true spirit of sport, are united and unequivocal in their desire to bring positive recognition to the nation.

Making choices

In a true tale of fate, Nauraj wasn’t even interested in high jump – the sport chose him instead. In fact, all he wanted to do was play football and hockey. “I was fortunate enough to have a teacher in my primary school (Syed Isa) who saw potential in me as an extra tall nine-year-old kid to participate in high jump,” said the 24-year-old Nauraj.

Malaysians are generally not water-based people, yet an 18-year-old girl from Johor Baru developed a taste for sailing, claiming that it was the attraction of nature and its elements that got her into it. “I chose sailing because it’s not one of those sports that many people can easily take to, and I like it because the challenges not only come from opponents, but nature, too,” she said. Having an older sister in the sport and an encouraging mother certainly paved the way for her to embark on her watery journey at the tender age of eight.

If there was credence to the belief that one could be born into a sport, then stories like Tiger Woods’ and Tan’s make perfect sense. Before the 22-year-old golfer could even choose a sport for herself, her golf-obsessed dad exposed her to the joys of driving and putting.

“I entered my first Sportexel Junior event when I was 13, a year after I started golf, and I immediately fell in love with the competitiveness of the game,” said Tan.

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With her Olympic qualification, Kelly Tan hopes to become a role model to Malaysian athletes. Photo: AFP

Going for gold

Unlike our older generation, who likely grew up climbing trees to steal the neighbour’s rambutan or scooping up guppy fish in the monsoon drains, the young ones today are kept cooped inside by parents who fear for their safety. Gaming consoles and electronic gadgets are the approved sources of entertainment, so only education merits a worthwhile pursuit, it seems.

Nauraj accepts that all parents are well-meaning, and understands that while they were growing up, education must always have been the priority. However, he sees sports having the upper hand in this modern age we live in. “The way I look at things, university is not going anywhere, so, I’m in no rush to get a degree. In sports, age is a factor, so I look at this as an opportunity to be seized,” he said, opining that through sports, scholarships can also be acquired.

Shazrin echoes her Johorean brethren’s sentiments, insisting that while education is imperative, a balance is needed between the two: “Sports can get us good jobs, too. Besides, most of us live in an environment of concrete jungles today, so, I would strongly recommend our youngsters choose a sport and give it their best.”

Tan, also from the southernmost state, reckons that both can be done concurrently, intimating that she has enjoyed her LPGA (Ladies Professional Golf Tournament) journey while keeping an eye on education. “Collegiate sport has become very competitive these days, and with that, it is great for young sportsmen to finish their education while playing competitive sports at the same time.”

Having the undying support of parents is all-important, and Nauraj has seen both his mum and dad undertake driver duty for him to realise his dreams. “They would send me and pick me up from training. Sometimes, they would hang around and watch me train, even when it was only school and district events. I still have their 100% support, like I did from the start,” related the aspiring lawyer.

Encouragement is an understatement in Tan’s case. Her dad not only egged her on, but worked out a family routine, where the fun began after dinner at the driving range at 7pm, and concluded at 10.30pm almost every night.

“Even now, they will stay up every day and night to watch me finish my rounds, even till the wee hours of the morning,” she said.

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Nauraj Singh Randhawa smashed the national record on his way to qualifying for Rio. Photo: The Star/Lim Beng Tatt

Breaking barriers

Nauraj smashed the national record on his way to qualifying for Rio, hitting the high of 2.29m at the Singapore Open Athletics Championships in April, beating by two centimetres an eight-year-old record set by Lee Hup Wei at the China Open in 2008.

While such an accolade is worth crowing about, nothing compares to earning his ticket to Rio. “When I broke the national record, I didn’t care about winning the gold medal, gaining a personal best or even a good world ranking. The only thing I had my eyes on was making it to the Olympics,” he relayed with gusto.

Shazrin has her own records, too, and has earned the unique plaudit of being the first woman to represent Malaysia in sailing at the games, her feat in the Laser Radial category at the Asian Sailing Championships in Abu Dhabi in March securing her berth. She has absorbed the joys of qualification and is now single-minded in raising Malaysia’s name at the games.

“This is my first Olympics, so I’m going to learn all I can to make sure I do my best in representing our country. I never thought I could come this far, but I’m truly grateful that I’m in this position now,” she said.

Tan is champing at the bit, armed with the knowledge that this is the first games to feature golf. “This is going to be very special, and in addition to representing my country in the international arena, being an Olympian is a lifetime title which I will be very proud of,” said Tan, who aspires to one day become a role model to Malaysian athletes, and emulate South Korea’s golfing darling Pak Se-ri.

The Olympics are not the pinnacle for a golfer. Obviously winning titles in the LPGA circuit is the pinnacle for women players, but being an Olympian is just as thrilling.

The countdown has begun, and soon, the torch will be lit. It’s only a matter of time before the games take centre stage, so, it’s time we all whip out our Jalur Gemilang, stand up and cheer our heroes on.