Malaysian Olympic Gymnast Farah Ann On What It Takes To Be A Champion
The clock is ticking. Displaying a mesmerising combination of a physical agility, strength, and stamina, she executes the jumps, her body a vision of athletic grace on the balance beam, a look of concentration on her face. Finally, she lands on the floor with a perfectly executed twist and jump—and a wide smile on her face.
One can only imagine the breadth of exertions and emotions that an artistic gymnast like Farah Ann Abdul Hadi goes through during a competition—all that training culminating in trying to execute that one flawless routine. Living and breathing for 90 seconds of performance.
Road to the Olympics
It’s every athlete’s dream to compete at the Olympics, and for 26-year-old Farah Ann, it was a dream come true when she finally earned her spot in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, after the disappointment of missing out on the 2016 Rio Games by a 0.1 point margin.
When the Tokyo Games were postponed, Farah tried to see it as a blessing in disguise rather than another disappointment. She’s been in such an endless series of competitions, including the Olympic qualifiers in Germany and the SEA Games in the Philippines, that she simply had no time to let her body rest. “I was having shoulder injuries that I’ve been putting off getting treatment for, but with the postponement I had the chance to heal my shoulder and now I’m feeling a whole lot better as I don’t have pain when I train.”
Throughout Malaysia's lockdown, Farah and her fellow athletes kept on training at the national training centre in Bukit Jalil to stay motivated and fit to perform at the highest level.
For Farah, this hard-won accomplishment is the highlight of her 23-year-long career and is also her family’s triumph. “This meant that all the time, sacrifice and pain that I went through means something. And being able to repay my parents for all the sacrifices they’ve made and to make them proud is what I cherish the most out of this experience. Hopefully, they are able to be there and watch me perform because I am doing this for them. To have them there and experience the Olympic dream with me is the best thing that I can do to show them how much I appreciate them.”
Form with Grace
For me, striving to be the best version of yourself is better than trying to be a perfect version of yourself
— Farah Ann Abdul Hadi
As an artistic gymnast, Farah must master her skills and form to make sure it looks fluid, light, and effortless. “Some people think that it’s a very easy sport because when they watch us perform, we make it look easy. But we have to make it look like it’s not hard at all because you get deductions in your points,” Farah says, adding that her journey hasn’t been an easy one, having to deal with mental blocks, which bring frustrations and challenges to her training, which also involves cardio, weight work and ballet.
“It takes a lot of work, and a lot of give and take. There were hard days where I couldn't do it and I used to be frustrated with myself as I didn’t understand why it was happening. It took me a while to say, ‘No, it’s okay. Today is just a day. It doesn’t mean that if I don’t perform today, I’m unable to perform when it matters.’ Perseverance is key to being able to overcome these challenges, and I think that’s one of my best qualities.”
Farah Ann Barbie
Recently, Farah had a Barbie doll modelled after her likeness, as part of Barbie’s Dream Gap project, which aims to empower girls with inspiring role models.
As a woman of colour, this holds particular historical significance for young Malaysian girls. “Never in my wildest dreams did I ever think that I would have a Barbie doll that looks like me! If you look at their roster, they have all these amazing athletes from all over the world. One of them is Dipa Karmakar; she’s a fellow gymnast and a good friend of mine, so this is such an amazing experience” she says.
For the attire for her Barbie, Farah decided on a pink leotard. “I also wanted the tiger jacket because I feel this animal represents Malaysia. But due to copyright issues, they had a different jacket made instead.”
Although they might not seem the most obvious of bedfellows, both the Barbie franchise and Farah's sport share one key commonality: they demand a perfection that, for the most part, is simply unobtainable. Farah is trying to change that narrative. “We’re all imperfect in a certain way, and those quirks and those imperfections are the things that actually make us who we are."
See more athletes from the Sports category of the Gen.T List 2020.