National pride Leong Mun Yee has made diving her duty as both an athlete and now a coach — and she’s not stopping any time soon.
It’s easy to get starstruck, but when you’re in the presence of a personality like national diver-slash-entreprenur Leong Mun Yee, you know you’re in for treat.
Mun Yee is the first to arrive on set for the cover shoot for LSA100’s The Rocketeers category. Punctual and cheerful, the superstar athlete offers to get everyone in the studio coffee — not from any random spot, but from Heroes Cafe nearby, which she happens to own. Calm yet mysterious, the introverted star quickly takes the her position at the hair and makeup station to get the ball rolling.
You see, it’s our final five cover shoots for LSA100 Class of 2022 and there’s an eerily nerve-racking aura in the air. The Lifestyle Asia KL team has worked hard to put together five group covers and 25 cover stories — each uniquely presented in its own way. And with The Rocketeers, the pressure seems more evident than ever.
Mun Yee smiles and brushes all that tension away. Her affable spirit comes through her easy-going personality. But she is a person with very few words.
As she’s getting her makeup done, we see an opportunity to speak to the athlete-turned-coach. With an open mind and a magnanimous soul, she begins to share — little by little as get her to open up. Together, we learn about her transition from a competitive diver to national diving coach, her goal of nurturing young talents, and more.
Describing herself as a tough nut, Mun Yee isn’t elusive on the fact that every path to victory comes with its own set of obstacles. Well, the truth is, she has no qualms about diving head first in her mission to bring more glory to the sport.
When she’s not working her poses on set, Mun Yee’s composure and discipline — traits established throughout the years as an athlete — emanate as she places herself at a corner, alone and in her zone. One can only wonder, what is going on in Mun Yee’s mind at that time?
Most of the time, she remains laconic. Her answers short but weighs a tonne. She’s not one who goes on and on about her achievements and successes — but one who lets her accomplishments do the talking.
Are you ready to go on a dive into the world of Leong Mun Yee?
Jumping off the board with heart and soul
Now 38, Perak-born Mun Yee has been at the forefront of diving in Malaysia for more than 27 years. The athlete found love for the sport at the age of 10 after switching from swimming. Through a series of tryouts in Ipoh for the 1998 Commonwealth Games, she then developed a fiery passion for the water game and has been a critical figure for diving ever since.
Of course, Mun Yee went on to represent the nation at the 1998 Commonwealth Games and several more. In fact, she has also qualified for five Olympic Games — making her the first and only female athlete from Malaysia to do so. Starting in 2000, she has made her appearance felt in Sydney, Athens, Beijing, London, and Tokyo (which would be her last before retirement).
However, being heavily involved in the sport from such a young age wasn’t always easy. “I was away from my family a lot when I was younger and it was a challenge I had to cope with,” she says. She adds, though, that the toughest thing as a diver is dealing with the injuries.
“I had a surgery on my wrist and ruptured two of my ligaments on my ankle,” expresses Mun Yee. She shrugs but it’s clear she understands how far she’s come. After all her signature tenacity is largely credited for getting her to where she is today.
Together with Pandelela Rinong, the athlete took the gold in 2009 when they won the 10m synchronised platform category at 2009’s World Aquatics Championship. While we’re still diving into her extensive list of accolades, you’d be amazed (but not surprised) to know that Mun Yee has also garnered the gold medal at events like Fina Diving Grand Prix and the SEA Games.
Her success is undeniable, to say the least. She has been an icon and a role model for aspiring divers for such a long time — and we really don’t see that wavering. Even when she’s quiet on set, Mun Yee emanates an enigmatic pull that makes even the coldest of hearts to go “wow”.
Since retiring as a competitive diver, Mun Yee has since taken on a role as Malaysia’s national diving coach for the senior team — a role she says was presented to her by opportunity.
“When I retired, I was asked to help out because two national coaches left that year. Looking at the amount of major events this year, I knew it in my soul that it’s a role I should take on,” she asserts. Now coaching her former teammates including The Z List 2022 alumnus Nur Dhabitah Sabri, Mun Yee’s tasks include managing the divers and their schedules (some are still pursuing their studies), lots of planning, as well as making sure everyone is on track and performing to their best capabilities.
For some, transitioning from player or athlete to a coaching position is a natural progression. But for Mun Yee, although it’s a challenge she gladly accepts, there’s a lot of pressure on her to thrive. All that while pursuing a Masters degree in Corporate Communication at Universiti Putra Malaysia (UPM) and graduating in November this year.
“Now that I’m observing from the other side of the game, I feel a sense of achievement when I see my divers compete and perform. The last dives can be very intense and I’m always proud of their performances,” conveys Mun Yee.
Let’s be honest… we love her for that — and we look forward to more great things to come from the diving legend and her marches.
On nurturing young divers and prepping for the future
For her contributions to the Malaysian sports industry, Mun Yee was awarded Panglima Mahkota Wilayah (PMW) in 2022. Part of this year’s Federal Territory Day recipients, she was conferred the ‘Datuk’ title.
Well, Datuk Leong Mun Yee’s mission to bring further glory to diving in Malaysia is far from over. She has something else up her sleeves — and that involves the establishment of her very own diving academy. While the exact launch date hasn’t been decided, good news is that planning for the academy is already in process.
“With the diving academy, we will be targeting a much younger audience, ranging from the ages of five to 12. We have to get them prepared for the sport as early as possible,” she affirms.
It’s also here that she acknowledges the importance of cultivating interest in diving from a young age. She continues: “It is a tough sport and not many people will enjoy it through and through. In fact, a lot will drop out halfway.”
Whether it’s learning to swim first, adjusting to dry land training before moving to the pool (dry land training is said to take up about 60% of the portion), or building mental strength, a tremendous amount of determination, perseverance, and dedication is necessary.
What are the secret ingredients, you asked? According to Mun Yee, a good diving athlete must approach the sport with commitment, dedication, disciple, and the right attitude. At the end of the day, divers have to carry with them the correct mindset when approaching the platform.
In the future, she hopes to see her academy flourish not just in Kuala Lumpur but across the nation — nurturing the future of the water sport one state at a time.
“I hope the state of the sport can be improved. Right now, diving is only available in five states in Malaysia and some states have a diving pool but no coaches or divers,” she acknowledges.
Knowing that there’s so much work to be done, Mun Yee doesn’t waste time. Complacency has no place in her books. With an optimistic look to the future, the icon sets out on her incredible mission to bring the positive change that not only Malaysians want to see, but also herself.
To Mun Yee, thank you for being a great sport in more ways than one.
LSA100: 100 Malaysians, 100 Milestones
Lifestyle Asia KL introduces LSA 100, an annual list that recognises Malaysia’s most influential names and celebrates their talents, contributions, successes and milestones. As the bellwether of style, travel, design, entertainment, business, sports, and more, these 100 Malaysians represent the next generation of go-getters who are paving the way for sharing their know-hows with the world through the power of digital media. LSA100 comprises five categories namely The Rule Breakers, The Joy Sparkers, The Dreamcatchers, The Rocketeers and The Explorers. Find out more about LSA100 Class of 2022, HERE.