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Cover Story

A Sky of Stars: Penang Shines as a Sporting State

They might have a long way to go in the sports arena, but they are certainly giving their all.

And the Future Looks Bright…

 

Low Wee Wern: Home-Grown Talent

Nicol David is a household name, but hot on her heels is 25-year-old Low Wee Wern, who has 19 Junior titles to her name (including three Asian Junior Championships – a feat no Malaysian since Nicol has accomplished) and is ranked second in the country only after Nicol herself, before injuries halted her momentum.

“I started squash at the age of eight as a hobby and weekend activity,” she recalls. “As a kid, I was pretty active and didn’t like to sit still, so my mum gave me an option of picking up either squash or tennis. I picked squash, partly because it’s indoors and I didn’t have to worry about rain or shine, as is the case with tennis!”

She first represented Penang at age 10, then Malaysia the following year. Winning multiple championships, including the British Junior Open, led her to become a full-time professional squash player at the age of 17. Since then, she has won seven Women’s Squash Association titles and was a quarterfinalist in the Women’s World Open from 2010 to 2013, and broke into the top 10 in the world, rising as high as fifth, before she tore her anterior cruciate ligament, sidelining her for the 2014/2015 season.


Low Wee Wern

Low Wee Wern

Low recently concluded a crowdfunding campaign on Indiegogo, an effort to show how powerful social media marketing can be and demonstrate how it can add value to athletes and sponsors. “The funds are to build a website that solves a disconnect between my fans and sponsors. On top of that, I want to challenge and change the current sports endorsements legacy system. And for my fans, a reward system that gives back to them for every share or post they make is something I could never do before. This is a proven return on investment and a win-win situation between sponsors and fans.”

Arguably the most notable part of Low’s story is that she is a truly home-grown talent, trained entirely in Penang at the Nicol David International Squash Centre. “We have a great setup here, the academy with dedicated coaches who want to see the players from Penang succeed, and that makes a huge difference even though we don’t have much financial support.”

But in spite of Malaysia’s success in the world of squash, there’s not a lot of coverage – something Low believes should be rectified. “In general, I think squash needs to be seen by the public a lot more, be it on TV, online, live or even delayed telecast.

It is rare to be able to watch squash on TV here in Malaysia, even when we have top players competing in world-class events. With this, the public viewing of squash will increase tremendously and people will start taking interest in the sport. Once that happens, parents will start encouraging their kids to learn squash and that is when the inclusion of squash in schools will take off. I feel that we too need to have more top class squash events here in Malaysia so that our people can see it and experience it for themselves!”

Low now aims to get her squash career back on track. What does she want to achieve before she eventually retires?

“World No. 1 and World Champion,” she says. “That is my goal. I also want to be the first player who has done it while being based here in Penang. No one believed I could make the top 10 if I stayed and trained here, but I did break into the top 5. My end goal now is 1.”

 

Chan Lu Yi: World No. 1

At 19, Chan Lu Yi isn’t just an expert wushu exponent – she’s the reigning world champion.

Chan began practising wushu at the tender age of seven, thanks to the recommendation of her father’s friend. “It was interesting and fun, so I participated,” she recalls. “It helps me stay healthy and relaxed.” She later joined the Penang state squad at age 12, and has since taken part in multiple competitions, including the Malaysia Wushu Championship, before graduating to the national squad at age 16. “After I entered the state squad and participated in a lot of competitions, I thought, maybe I can do well in this,” she says. She soon moved to Bukit Jalil, like many other young and promising Malaysian athletes, where she balances her wushu training with her studies – she is currently studying Foundation in Science at the International Medical University.

Specialising in the taijiquan category, Chan bagged a gold medal at the 2014 Sukma Games in Perlis. Then in the following year, she went to Jakarta for the 13th Wushu World Championship, and returned home a world taijiquan champion. Next in her sights: this year’s Sukma games, where she modestly sets expectations. “I don’t expect much. I just hope I can perform well and with no mistakes.”

As Chan attests, it’s not easy balancing her training with her studies. She trains from Monday to Saturday, taking part in intense skills training sessions as well as gym sessions, where she participates in strength and weight training sessions. “I have to manage my time well,” she says. “In our sport, we must have discipline. It’s a tradition.”

I have to manage my time well. In our sport, we must have discipline. It’s a tradition.

But there’s only so much she can balance. Someday, she will have to choose between her beloved sport and her education. Chan has ambitions of becoming a doctor (“I feel happy when helping people in pain.”), and the lack of endorsements for even a world wushu champion means that something’s got to give, eventually. There’s no wushu category in the Olympics, after all, and the limited number of competitions a year means there are fewer financial incentives compared to other sports like badminton. Chan predicts she’ll continue to stay in the sport until her degree inevitably begins. Then retirement.

But that’s not happening just yet. “Maybe I will postpone my degree. My parents are okay with it, but ‘don’t stop too long ah!’” she adds with a laugh.


MSNPP

Chan Lu Yi

 

Nur Naseha Rusli: Sight on the Target

Nur Naseha Rusli has been an active archer since she was just 13 years old. Picking up her first bow upon entering secondary school, she has since never looked back, taking part in numerous archery competitions in the country and overseas over the last six years – and she has the medals to show for it.

But her first taste of international competition came in 2011 when she took part in the Asian Archery Youth Championships in Dhaka, Bangladesh, and won the gold in a team event. In 2012 she joined a programme organised by the National Sports Council, with an eye on the 2014 Youth Olympic Games, which led to her moving from Penang to Bukit Jalil when she was 15. In 2013 Nur took part in the World Archery Youth Championships in Wuxi, China. On the first day of the contest, she placed 54th over 120th, and eventually missed out on qualifying for the individual round for the Olympics.

The following year, Nur joined the National Sports Council’s Pelapis Kebangsaan programme and trained under former national archer Wan Khalmizam for the upcoming Sukma competition in Perlis. 2014 was an especially tricky year for Nur – a time when she had to figure out how to balance her archery training with her SPM examinations.

Then the 2014 Sukma Games arrived, and Nur shone. First, the bronze medal for the 60m event, then a silver for the 50m event the following day. And finally she won the gold for the 30m event. It was a much needed high note before she took a break from the world of archery to fully focus on the SPM. She then started anew in 2015. The year began slowly for her. She won just one medal in the first competition of the year. But later, at the UPM Open Archery Championship, Nur bagged four medals, including two golds.

Having taken part in both local and international competitions, what’s the biggest difference Nur can see? “For sure the competition is harder when it comes to the latter,” she said. “If you want to beat them you need to have a very strong mentality and skill. They’ve been to more international games so they are more experienced.”

Now 19 years old, Nur is trying to balance her archery training with her STPM examinations, but her eye is set on this year’s Sukma Games. “I want to defend my gold in the 30m. Two years ago I won a silver in the Olympic round; this year I am targeting gold.”

Nur credits her mother, a travel agent in Penang, as a source of strength and motivation. “My mum is a single mum and I’m an only child. She really supports me every time there’s a competition, and she would give me advice and pray for me. It’s been six years since I joined the National Sports Council, and I can only go back to her maybe once or twice a year.”

Before she eventually retires, Nur wants a shot at the Olympics, but knows she still has some way to go, describing her current performance as “not elite”. “I’m 19 now, I’m not sure I can compete with elite teams (yet).” But “retirement” is still far off in her mind, and even if she leaves the National Sports Council programme to concentrate on her degree, she knows universities like UPM have their own archery programmes. She’d never be far away from a bow and arrow.

And any advice she might have for young girls who’d want to follow in her footsteps? “Firstly, your mentality has to be strong; some competitors will try to (psyche) you, so you really need to have a strong mentality. The most important thing is to believe in yourself, and you can do it.”

Firstly, your mentality has to be strong; some competitors will try to (psyche) you, so you really need to have a strong mentality. The most important thing is to believe in yourself, and you can do it.


Nur Naseha Rusli

Nur Naseha Rusli.

 

Calvin Boon: Going the Distance

Calvin Boon insists that he’s not particularly talented. “I don’t have the strength for throwing sports or the speed for sprinting, and I definitely don’t have the flexibility of a jumper. I know I don’t have a lot of talent.”

What he does have, he’ll tell you, is a strong work ethic and determination. “So the only thing I can go for are the long distance events, which involve stamina and hard work. If you work hard, you can be successful at it. We cannot compete with sprinters, but we work hard.”


MSNPP

Calvin Boon.

That work ethic is what led him to win a gold medal for Penang at Sukma 2014 in the 10,000m category, and he’s poised to defend his win in this year’s games in Sarawak.

Boon first got into track and field when he was about 13, and eventually found himself being coached by PLBS Peyadesa, a former runner who represented Malaysia at the 1972 Olympics in Munich. He grew to enjoy the competition after a series of successes at Penang Schools Sports Council competitions, and in 2010 won the steeplechase event at MSSM.

His first Sukma was in 2010 in Pahang, which exposed him to a different kind of competition from what he was used to at school games. “The maturity is different,” he says. “Sukma is no joke; you’ve got to train for it.” It was a turning point for Boon, and while he came away empty-handed, he renewed his focus on the next Sukma Games. Then at Sukma 2014 in Perlis, he took home the gold. He’s now focused on training for this year’s Sukma.

Boon has also taken part in track meets overseas, thanks to the generous support of his sponsors (he has sponsorship deals with Oat King and Garmin, on top of the RM500 a month he would receive for two years after his gold win at Sukma), as well as the Penang Forward Sports Club. He most recently took part at the Singapore Athletics Track and Field Series 2, where he won the gold in the 10,000m event, then came in third in the 5,000m run.

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The ultimate dream for Boon would be to take part in the Olympics, but before that he wants a shot at the SEA Games, which will be held in KL next year. But this is easier said than done: organisers have provisionally dropped eight track and field events from the 2017 games, including the 10,000m, the decathlon and triathlon, sparking an uproar. “It’s a shame,” Boon says. “It makes no sense. It’s quite disappointing.”

In the meantime, there are other races to take part in, and with them, mounting pressure. Boon knows that he is considered a “prospect” for the upcoming Sukma Games – he is expected to win the gold once more. “The pressure is there, and we must live up to the hype. But that’s what makes Lee Chong Wei and Nicol great. They handle a lot of pressure every day.” And for his part, Boon is embracing the expectations.

The pressure is there, and we must live up to the hype. But that’s what makes Lee Chong Wei and Nicol great. They handle a lot of pressure every day.

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Cover Story

A Sky of Stars: Penang Shines as a Sporting State

There’s her flair for the game, and then there are the endless hours of training, six days a week. There is no short cut to becoming the world’s most decorated player.

Nicol David, Queen of Squash

Mention squash and Datuk Nicol David comes to mind for most of us. The longest reigning world No. 1 (a whopping 108 consecutive months!) until September last year, since turning professional in 2000, Nicol shows no sign of slowing down.

While her prowess as a squash player speaks for itself, it is her character that shines through: former Felda United player Ndumba Makache commended Nicol’s incredible humility while he was undergoing an intensive rehabilitation programme alongside her at the National Sports Institute (ISN) in February this year. “For a person who’s achieved so much, she’s very humble and down to earth, which was great to see,” he says[1].

Arguably the most decorated player in the history of women’s squash, Nicol attributes her ability to stay grounded in the face of international acclaim to her family, friends, as well as her supporters in Malaysia and abroad. “I’m just an athlete looking to achieve my full potential. When in Malaysia, the recognition I get is a real bonus. My friends and family remind me of where I come from, and their love transfers whenever I meet people,” she says.

On top of that, Nicol’s parents, Desmond and Ann Marie, are her sports heroes. “My dad used his knowledge of playing hockey, football and athletics to develop my potential in sports while my mum taught me to study and play sports without any expectations,” she says. Most importantly, there was no pressure to perform: “They both told me that we should do our best, we can’t do better than that. As long as we enjoy everything we do, nothing else matters.”

 

Success Begins With Hard Work

Nicol’s training regime is marked by long hard hours of practice under the tutelage of Australian Liz Irving, a renowned former squash player who held the No. 2 ranking back in 1988. Nicol, who was then just a fresh high school graduate, moved to Amsterdam with her parents’ blessing to begin her training.

“My training instantly took a 360-degree turn and I went back the basics in order to develop the proper techniques, movements, tactics and strength to compete in international tours,” says Nicol. Her training sessions consist of two to four hours of practice twice a day, six days a week. This regime, backed by Irving’s professional experience, proved key to Nicol’s ascent to the top of the squash world.

Nicol has come to regard Irving as her biggest influence. “She’s a true mentor with the kindest heart. That has kept our working relationship the way it is until now, over 13 years,” she fondly says.

Nicol has shown a remarkable ability to steer clear of the injuries that commonly plague professional players. She attributes this to her sports therapist, provided by the National Sports Institute of Malaysia, who travels with her to six to eight tournaments for pre-match preparation and post-match recovery. “I was also taught to rest well, train accordingly and listen to my body to give it the recovery it needs,” she says.

 

Passion to Carry On

Shortly after becoming the first player to win the World Junior Championships twice in 1999 and 2001, Nicol embarked on a remarkable journey that would later make her the undisputed champion with a win percentage of 90.5% (304 wins, 32 losses). This includes winning eight World Open titles, six Asian Games gold medals and, most notably, holding on to the No. 1 spot for a record nine years, beating New Zealand’s Susan Devoy’s record of 105 months[2].

However, Nicol’s highly illustrious career has not been without heartbreaks. Last year proved to be a tough one for the “Queen of Squash” when she lost her No. 1 ranking to Raneem El Welily in September, sending shockwaves across Malaysia. Two months later, Nicol failed to retain her Qatar Classic title against Egypt’s Nour El-Sherbini, signifying the fifth consecutive time she has failed to advance into the finals of a major tournament.

Even so, Nicol finds a silver lining in these setbacks: “Now I have better appreciation for all that I’ve achieved and I’ll compete with a full perspective and approach towards reaching my best performance each time I step into the court,” she says.

Now I have better appreciation for all that I’ve achieved and I’ll compete with a full perspective and approach towards reaching my best performance each time I step into the court.

While facing tough competition from El Welily and Laura Massaro, she also lists up-and-coming talents as competitors; younger players are getting into the top 10, particularly Egyptian players who have taken the level of uncertainty in winning major titles a notch higher by dominating half of the top 20 list. “This uncertainty has always been there and nothing actually changes,” Nicol concedes. “It’s all a matter of what goes on at the tournament.”

 

Bid for the Olympics

Ever since picking up squash at the tender age of eight, Nicol’s thirst for raising the bar for the sport has not abated. It was therefore no surprise when she announced that she would campaign hard for squash to be included in the Olympics games, going as far as to say that she would willingly trade her eight World Open titles for a gold Olympic medal[3].

As the campaign gained momentum, more prominent athletes joined in as well. Personalities such as Roger Federer and Malaysia’s Datuk Lee Chong Wei lent their support to its cause. The bid failed for the London 2012 and Rio de Janeiro 2016 Olympics, but it was the failure to get it into the Tokyo 2020 Olympics that was disheartening. Squash was again rejected, this time on the grounds that it was neither spectator-friendly nor economical[4].

Though disappointed, Nicol firmly believes that squash deserves a spot in the Olympics. “It’s unfortunate that we’ve missed out on the Olympic Games, but huge steps have also been made especially in the area of spectator viewership and the high quality of broadcasting and reach around the world.”

 

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Beyond Sports

Ever since 2002, Nicol has been the Goodwill Ambassador for the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) Malaysia, an offshoot organisation under the UN which tackles social issues ranging from poverty to youth development.

“My role in the UNDP is to create awareness about current global issues that Malaysia faces today by sharing the UNDP Millennium Development Goals through campaigns, social media activities and mission trips to rural areas.” She plans to be involved in more projects whenever she’s in Malaysia. “I hope to reach out to more youths and give them a chance to address these issues themselves.”

For a recap, read editor Ooi Kee Beng's story on Nicol, published in our February 2010 issue, at www.penangmonthly.com/meeting-a-legend-that-grows-and-grows.

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" You try to be ready for whatever comes your way"

Profiles

Meeting a legend that grows and grows

Champions don't grow on trees, especially champions like Nicol David, who has been world No.1 in woman's squash since August 2006. Ooi Kee Beng tries to find out what makes her tick, and tick so consistently and impressively. What he finds out is that although this 26-year-old already dominates the game globally, her best is yet to come.

Ooi Kee Beng: I had a very long chat with your father, Desmond, a couple of days ago. I was hoping to find out what he considers to be the special elements that make Nicol David the indomitable champion in women's squash that she is. If anyone knows what these are, it would be him, and your mother of course.

Only late in the conversation did it become clear to me that there were at least three factors that help explain your achievements.

First, you grew up in a family that is and was passionate about sports. I am told that your great-grandfather did not care much for sports. Despite his attempts at discouraging his children to engage in sports, your grandfather, A.C.David, actually reacted strongly against that, and he in turn supported his children in their sporting interests.

With such encouragement, your father became an excellent player in hockey and football. He was in fact famous before your time as the goalkeeper of Penang's football team, and also represented the country.

Your parents showered you three girls with a lot of love and attention, and also encouraged all of you to engage in sports.

You, being the youngest, therefore had this active existential space laid out for you by your parents and your sisters. This healthy social atmosphere nurtured you in all sorts of ways; not least of all , it allowed you, without fear or favour, to develop a strong sense of competitiveness.

Second, you were lucky in coming into contact with squash enthusiasts such as Oh Siong Tit, who were trying to interest young Penangites in the game, and your early coach, Ee Phoeh Hoon.

Finally, your father remembers you as an extremely focused baby who would watch her favourite TV programmes intensely, even at the age of six months. He shared with me the fact that you, despite being a very nice person, have a real 'killer instinct'. Unlike your sisters, you did not, and do not, mind beating your opponent "9-0, 9-0, 9-0".

To what extent am I correct in coming to these conclusions?

Nicol David: Yeah, I had a very good upbringing. My sisters were always there. They always enjoyed the game, and I wanted to be like them. And despite the difference in our standards, they would go out on the court with me along. That's how I started building up my game, and got better and better.

You grew up with squash then? It's like the air you breath, isn't it?

Pretty much so. Here (Penang International Squash Centre, Bukit Dumbar) was like a second home. All the people here, the community, were great. For example, Ms Ee, our coach, pretty much created a family feel here. Everybody who came here got along very well.

That was the beauty of the place, it was like home. Of course, with one's sisters around as well, one was halfway there.

Would you credit Ms Ee for laying at least part of the foundation for your excellent squash game?

Yeah, I think she did for everyone. She started the foundation to develop junior players, to get them to work together and enjoy themselves. That was the feeling I always had when I came here.

pic 7 nicol
Photo: theSun
The thing is, I never thought too much about it. I would just go in, and I wanted to win, and I give it my all. And that panned out all right

Was there anything in the beginning in your game that you had to work hard to overcome?

I just enjoyed the whole thing, being with all these people, of all ages. You learned form the older players and they would look after you. It was all fun.

The thing is, I never thought too much about it. I would just go in, and I wanted to win, and I would give it my all. And that panned out all right. So when I started going overseas, and it was all working out as well, I thought it was more fun. I was meeting new people, new faces.

It's when you move from one stage to the next, like going professional, that thing change, and you have to work harder.

What fascinates me about your career is, one can become a champion. You had a good start, a loving family. But to stay at the top for so long at your age is awe-inspiring. That is quite an achievement.

I never expected it to happen so soon. My coach Liz Irving, who has tremendous experience on the circuit, has the ability to see potential and she knew where I needed to develop. But even for her, things have happened more quickly that she expected.

Becoming world number one and world champion for the first time (in January 2006, and staying there for three months) was of course overwhelming, because that's what you had been dreaming about, what you had been aspiring to be. Getting there actually drains you, and after that you have to feel for the next step. And when you get back there the second time (in August 2006, after falling to No. 2 for four months), you feel justified and you know what competition is all about, and are ready to move forward.

Your father said expert opinion has it that you will peak as a player only in a couple of years. That must scare the competition quite a bit.  

(laughs) I know that I am still learning more about myself, about how I can handle the professional circuit. I am trying to be an all-round squash player, and picking up bits and pieces to add to my game. It will take time.

Even when you are peaking, I am sure there will still be room for improvement.

So the resistance - the competition - folded more easily that you thought.

(laughs) Yeah, yeah. Exactly (laughs).

You don't seem to be suffering from the pressure.

The more you grow, the more you just have to learn as much as possible from people around you. You want to bring the right team together, you want to create an atmosphere where you feel comfortable, and everything is well looked after, so that you can do your job; put all that training and support to good use. You just go for it. Like they say, you can't do more than your best, you know.

I hear that one of Ms Ee's methods was to promise each of you - winner and loser - 20 sen for every point you won. That made you take one point at the time, and every point mattered. That was a brilliant idea.

It's about the small steps. We tend to see too big a picture, you want to win. But how do you make sure of that? It's all about the small steps, one at a time. Sometimes we lose that focus, but that's what we want to develop. It's the mental attitude you take on for every match that makes the difference.

I can imagine that when you are 8-1 down, you might just give up if you don't think in small steps.

Yes, you have to keep going at it, one point at a time. In the meantime, you have to remember that the person who is leading by 8-1, being far ahead, might have lost focus on the small steps. This gives you an advantage.

It's all a learning experience. You learn from your losses and other experiences so that they won't happen again.

Any regrets or disappointments?

No, I don't think so. What I have been doing has gotten me this far (laughs). It's all part and parcel of the whole experience. You try to be ready for whatever comes your way. You will have your ups and downs, but you are working towards something, so at the end of the day you can't go too far wrong.

People say its 90% perseverance and 10% talent. What do you say to that?

Yea, it's a lot of hard work. You have to work at it. At the same time, with the hard work, your sense of accomplishment when you win is all the much greater.

I have always wanted that feeling of doing well, and achieving things. That's what drives me to keep training, and working hard.

Do you sometimes feel sorry for the people you trounce?

(laughs) Well, no. They know what it's all about when they enter the game. You have to keep making the point clear to the opponent; "I am not letting this go until the very last point."

Are you always so competitive?

In everything. Not with my sisters though. But they always let me have my way. We are very, very close. Strangely, there is never any sibling rivalry between us, there is no jealousy. There are three years between Lianne and Cheryl, and another between Cherly and me; so, a six-year difference between the oldest and the youngest.

We feel that whoever wins is the one who plays better. Friends of mine seem to think that whatever I do I have to get it right.

So yes, I do seem to want to do well in everything I get into.

pic 5 nicol
"I have always wanted that feeling of doing well, and achieving things. That's what drives me to keep training, and working hard." Photo: Kwong Wah Yit Poh

At the same time, you have a reputation for being an extremely nice person. Being competitive does not mean being nasty, obviously. You do not seem to be driven by outside pressure; it's all coming from within you, all inherent.

Every competitive sport you go into is a mental challenge. You go onto the court, and beyond the physical part, you have to exert yourself mentally. The challenge is to be prepared when you go in there. You never know. You just have to be prepared.

Do the handsome young men of Amsterdam, where you do your training, distract you in any way?

(laughs) No, no time for that. Nowadays I am never in any one place for more than three weeks. After I took my SPM exams, with support from the Sports Council and my parents, I decided to compete full-time for a year. It was not an easy decision; you never know how things will go.

But my ranking shot up tremendously that year, and so I have continued.

At the moment, it's very intense. My focus is on squash. Later on, I will go into something that interest me, perhaps in some artistic field, possibly clothing product design.

What angers you? What saddens you?

Not much actually. The difficult part is handling defeat. And since I don't want that to happen again, that's why I still do what I do . You have to go through your defeat and find your way, and grow from it.

I meet so many different and interesting people, and there is no reason to be angry about anything. Why waste my time with that? There is so much else going your way.

With your success, do you feel that you are being cocooned, shut out from a normal life?

Strangely, no, I don't. I still feel I have a lot to learn. I have good friends and my family will always keep me in my place. I am comfortable with that. That won't change. It's just that the appreciation form the public and the people around you is a big bonus. The positiveness surrounding you and the appreciation that people show you, all that you have that extra edge of having people behind you.

But the reality is that, I am just a squash player, like many others.

What else do you look forward to?

I am involved with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). I am their goodwill ambassador. Later on, I hope to have more time to give something back. Also, if I can be one of those who can bring squash into the Olympics, that would be great.

pic 3 nicol

Now, with your fame, do you get suspicious of people?

You are open to the things, you know what's there and go according to what you know and are comfortable with. The more you travel and the older you get, the more experienced you become. You don't get suspicious, you just see more clearly what you can expect, and what people expect of you.

The main thing is to form a good relationship with people, and take it from there.

You seem prepared for the fame from the start.

Well, I was taught well (laughs).

How does hotel life get to you?

From the beginning, I travelled and saw a lot of cities where the tournaments are held. I always stayed till the end, so I had opportunities to sightsee. I wasn't winning all the time then. I still travel to the same cities that I have seen a lot of. So I just focus on squash.

I do try between match and training to move around and see some sights.

I understand that you have to make all the arrangements on your own when you travel to compete.

All the squash players have to do that. It keeps you on your toes, all the things that you have to look after. You are responsible for yourself. You can't expect people to be doing all that for you. In the beginning, you do get some help.

Your father told me that whenever you come back to Penang, you have to drop by a char koay teow stall on the way. Is that right?

Yes, that's true. Being away from Penang so much, any such stall will do (laughs). Also, my mum is a good cook, and she makes sure she cooks all my favourite dishes when I am home.

One of the good things about traveling is that you get to learn about new cultures. I always eat the local dishes.

During training, I eat a bit better, but when I am back in Penang on holiday, like now, I let go a bit.

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Nicol David with Darjah Setia Pangkuan Negeri, awarded by the Yang di-Pertuan Negeri Tun Abdul Rahman Abbas in 2008. Photo: Kwong Wah Yit Poh

Music favourites? Films? Books?

R&B, hip-hop. Sometimes chill-out music like jazz or lounge music.

I've been reading Malcolm Gladwell, who does research on how our mind works, and brings in a lot of factors, in books like Outliners or Blink.

Favourite airline? Malaysian Airline?

Yes, I used to travel a lot with them. they used to sponsor me. Right now, they have a lot of changes going on. But the Sports Council of Malaysia still sponsors me, so I fly MAS a lot, yes.

You went to Convent Green Lane, I understand. How many languages do you speak? How's your Dutch?

Just English. Hokkien, I understand from my mother. It sounds funny when I speak it. Tamil is not spoken at home, except by my grandfather.

I do want to know many more languages. I will just have to sit down someday and get down to it.

What is your training routine like?

About three to four hours a day. Six days a week. On Thursdays, we sleep in and rest, and train only in the afternoon. Sunday is the day off. That's when I do nothing, just laze around.

How has the state and the nation been treating you?

Quite unreal. Getting so much back Malaysians and Penangites, who have been so appreciative, is quite overwhelming. Squash players from other countries who come to Malaysia are very surprised by the reception.

What message do you have for young people?

My dream was to be world champion someday. That has come true, I am living my dream. So, have a dream. Find what you love doing and stick to it, that's my advice.

How do you think you will reign will end? Will you retire while at the top, or will you fight your way till the end?

I think I will want to keep on top of my game. I want to keep going for as long as my body lasts. I love the sport, and I will stay as long as possible.

That's not good news for your opponents.

It's about looking after your body, looking after every aspect. Those are your tools to keep you going.

After that, there is a lot one can do. Maybe have an academy, or a design company someday, who knows.

Your father and I were discussing the possibilities of Penang launching a regular tournament of the world standard for woman's squash in the near future. Would you be supportive of that?

Yes, of course. The thing is that the sponsorship has to be a certain level for players like me to be able to participate as part of our ranking process. So once you have sponsors that are generous enough, we can have such a regular tournament in Penang. With the new portable glass courts, you can move the venue around, especially for the finals.

Well, the international Squash players love coming to Penang. Given the right occasion, they will definitely come.

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This interview with Nicol Ann David took place at noon on December 13, 2009, at the Penang International Squash Centre, Bukit Dumbar.

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