Malaysia's diver Nur Dhabitah Sabri: Making myself proud is the new perfection

The Tokyo 2020 fourth-place finisher was inspired by her surprising result: "The most important thing to know is that no matter where you come from, you can always be the winner.”

4 min By Scott Bregman
(Picture by 2022 Getty Images)

Forget perfection.

Malaysian diver Nur Dhabitah Sabri has.

The 23-year-old, two-time Olympian is instead focused on more controllable outcomes as she seeks a third trip to the Games at Paris 2024 and a possible medal.

“As I grow older, I think what’s most important is to make yourself proud,” said Nur Dhabitah in a recent interview with lifestyleasian.com. “Even if I don’t make a perfect dive but I still feel happy, it’s more than enough for me.”

After a fourth-place finish in the 3m springboard at the Tokyo 2020 Games, held in the summer of 2021, Nur Dhabitah has marked herself as the potential successor to Pandelela Rinong, the two-time Olympic medalist and two-time Commonwealth Games champion.

She’ll compete this weekend at the FINA Diving Series’ finale in Kuala Lumpur. Competition begins Thursday (24 November).

Pandelela Rinong and Nur Dhabitah seal Malaysian diving clean sweep at SEA Games

Nur Dhabitah claims first gold medal of 2022 SEA Games in Hanoi as Pandelela Rinong deals with near miss and luggage issues

Nur Dhabitah Sabri: Tokyo 2020 placement shows anything is possible

Her near miss of the medals podium in Tokyo has given her a boost, she says, heading into this 2022 season.

“Although I didn’t win a medal at the time, it really goes to show that no matter where you’re from, you actually can win. It’s not an impossible feat,” Nur Dhabitah explained. “Honestly, I was actually expecting to finish in sixth, or just about anything after the fifth ranking. So, when I found out that I came in fourth, it made me realise that I really can make it onto the podium one day.

“I just need to train even harder, and keep improving myself. The most important thing to know is that no matter where you come from, you can always be the winner.”

But winning, of course, isn’t at the top of her mind. Nur Dhabitah, in fact, admits that when she’s competing there’s not much on her mind at all.

“Oh, I don’t think at all before I make the jump. I just jump!” she says.

Later adding, “Of course, during training, there’s a lot to think about — things like needing to keep my legs straight, or my arms steady — and that’s because I’m trying to improve. But if I think too much before I jump, I’ll just end up splashing and making mistakes for the next few rounds.”

The hard work has paid off with Nur Dhabitah taking three medals at the Commonwealth Games, including individual silver in the 3m, and bronze in 10m synchro at the World Championships in the 2022 season.

“People think that diving is not as ‘tiring’ as we describe it, because they assume that all we need to do is jump into the water, and that’s it. But obviously, it’s so much more than that! It’s not just the stairs that we climb to get to the platform, but it’s also about the techniques that we practise when we’re training that really makes it tiring,” she says of the regime that has been so fruitful.

“We have to always be focused, otherwise anything can happen. We can accidentally hit our head on the board and get injured. It’s a very serious thing, so we always have to be careful. That’s why, after training, we are usually very quiet because we’ve used up the energy of both our bodies and our minds. “

Nur Dhabitah Sabri: Body and mind

Nur Dhabitah’s mental health came into sharp focus as she prepared for the Tokyo Games. The pandemic delay, she says, tested her emotionally to such a degree that she almost walked away from the sport.

“I was having a lot of self-doubt at the time. I think part of it had to do with the COVID-19 pandemic and the lockdown, as well,” she said. “I felt like I didn’t have the support from the family to help me, physically, so I was very stressed out. All the emotions started coming to me, and it got so overwhelming. I wanted to give up. I just felt like I had to get out of there.”

But she didn’t. She stuck with it, aided by her coach, Christian Brooker, who worked to build her confidence and reassure her of her ability.

It clearly worked, as Nur Dhabitah soared to that surprise fourth place finish in Tokyo.

"I’m really grateful to my coach at the time — Christian — he was there for me through it all, and he gave me the confidence to keep going,” she said. “I also feel really blessed to have such a great diving family, who has helped me to grow more in life and in diving.”

Valuable learnings that will no doubt pay off as she forges ahead to Paris.

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