National diver Nur Dhabitah binti Sabri opens up about the twists and turns of diving and how she is learning to enjoy the journey as she plunges towards the prize: an Olympic podium finish.
Shirt: Sandro Paris; Sunglasses: Oakley; Ring: Dhabitah's own I Makeup: Phyto-Teint Ultra Eclat in #1, Blur Expert, Le Phyto-Blush in #11, Les Phyto-Ombres in #10 and #11, Le Phyto-Rouge in #10 / All Sisley Paris
To the world, Nur Dhabitah Sabri is best known as a Malaysian diver. But to her, diving is her world—at least the one that her life has revolved around for the past decade and a half.

Fresh from winning three medals—two silvers and one bronze—at the 2022 Commonwealth Games in Birmingham, the rising athlete squeezes in a few hours on a Monday morning before her next training to share a glimpse into her "everything".

At just five feet tall, she carries the weight of the country's Olympic hopes and dreams on her shoulders like a true champ. Despite returning empty-handed from Tokyo last year, she won the hearts of Malaysians with her commendable fourth-place finish. That, plus her radiant optimism and infectious smile.

She brings the same affable, self-effacing energy to our shoot as she strikes familiar poses in front of the camera. Behind that youthful exuberance, however, is a quiet strength that stems from years of coping with both the external pressure and internal struggles of being a national athlete.
Jacket: Sandro Paris I Makeup: Phyto-Teint Ultra Eclat in #1, Phyto-Cernes Eclat in #3, Le Phyto-Blush in #6, Les Phyto-Ombres in #10 and #11, Ombre Eclat Liquide in #5, Phyto-Rouge Shine in #11 / All Sisley Paris
Taking the plunge
Dhabitah, fondly known as Bitah, started diving competitively at the age of seven. She credits her interest in the sport to her father, who is a big sports fan himself and the reason she first went for tryouts with one of her older brothers.

"He realised that [my brother and I] loved the water, so he got us into swimming, but that didn't work out. Then we tried diving and we both enjoyed the sport," the youngest of four siblings explains.

Barely over a year after dipping her toes into diving, she won her first medal at a state competition. "At the time, I was still playing around, so my mum was like, 'if you're getting these results now, imagine how far you can go when you take it seriously,'" she recalls.

It wasn't until she made it to the Bukit Jalil Sports School that she started thinking about representing Malaysia on the international stage. After all, not all athletes get selected to join the school. For those who do get in, especially as a diver, the institute often serves as a springboard to participate in global competitions. Indeed, her diving career only went up from there.
In 2012, she became the youngest Malaysian diver to win at a senior international competition by acing two events at the Southeast Asian Swimming Championships. After that, she went on to bag medals at most major events including her first SEA Games in 2013 (and every SEA Games after that), as well as her Commonwealth Games debut the following year.

She has also won first place in multiple FINA Diving Grand Prix tournaments and Asian Diving Cups. Her impressive results over the years earned her the honour of being the first female athlete to light the cauldron at the opening ceremony of the 2017 SEA Games in Kuala Lumpur. Mind you, she achieved all this by the age of 18.

"I think diving from a young age taught me self-discipline and helped me to avoid negative behaviour," she comments on how the sport affected her teenage life. "But it was also hard because I focused so much of my time on diving, and I still had to keep up good grades, so it was hard to juggle both things at the same time."
Vest and shorts: Longchamp; Knit vest (worn inside) and sneakers: Sandro Paris
Sink or swim
The 23-year-old continues to keep up that balancing act today, as she pursues her Bachelor's in Media Communications at the National University of Malaysia in between her diving practices.

Depending on the training programme for the day, each session may take about six to eight hours. There are two types of gym training involved: one for strength training and conditioning (weightlifting), and the other for practising drills on dryland with trampolines and springboards.

Make no mistake—diving is a physically demanding sport, and she's often too spent by the end of training to do much else. However, she confesses that her most significant hurdle is actually a mental challenge: people's expectations of her.

"Now, people are starting to recognise me, so I have to be more careful with my actions, keep my composure, and be consistent. I think the most challenging thing as an athlete is the pressure that has been given to us," she admits.
Medal targets are expected when you're competing at her level—especially if you've done well in a particular event before—but Dhabitah admits that the added pressure can affect her performance. Take the recent Commonwealth Games, for example. Out of the four events she competed in, she earned a medal for all but the very event she was gunning for gold in—the women's synchronised 10-metre platform dive with partner Datuk Pandelela Rinong.

Looking back on that event, Dhabitah says: "I was so disappointed with myself. I don't know what to say except that sometimes diving is like that. You train so hard and you think that you're going to nail this dive, but then it doesn't happen.

"I figured maybe it just wasn't my day, you know?," she continues, "I have to stay positive so that I don't beat myself too hard for it lah."
Shirt: Sandro Paris; Sunglasses: Oakley; Earrings: Stylist's own
Coming up for air
When reflecting on the proudest moment of her diving career so far, it's not a medal or a competition that comes to mind; it's the fact that she didn't call it quits in her darkest hour.

"There were a lot of times when I seriously thought of giving up," Dhabitah opens up. "I think the worst was in 2021, during the FINA World Cup—the last qualifications before the Olympics—where I did very badly. It was the first competition after Covid-19 and we hadn't been competing internationally for so long, so of course, I was nervous.

"I remember I was in Japan at the time when I called my parents and told them, 'I don't think I want to do this anymore. I don't see any future in this.' But I'm here today, and I'm still diving."
Jacket and pants: Sandro Paris; Top: Massimo Dutti; Earrings: Stylist's own
What changed her mind and kept her going? "I think it was when I dove well at the Olympics. To be honest, I didn't expect to do well," she muses.

"After that, my coach, Christian Brooker, said something to me that really stuck with me: 'You just have to believe in yourself.' I realised then that I doubted myself too much. If I believed in myself more, I wouldn't even think about giving up."

Having said that, she's grateful for supportive teammates who assure her that it isn't the end of the world when she falls short. She only asks the same of her fans and fellow Malaysians: "I hope that you will keep on supporting us no matter what the result is. Don't just support us only when we're winning, but support us when we're down as well."
Making a splash
Regardless, Dhabitah knows better now to tune out the noise and focus on doing what she knows and loves. The key, as she has learnt, is to keep calm and not get in over her head.

"A few seconds before I dive, after they announce my name and hit the buzzer for me to start, I will take a couple of deep breaths before diving. In between dives, I would listen to music, especially upbeat songs, to distract me from listening to the other divers' marks and to not overthink about the outcome of my dives," she divulges.

"Usually, I would just try to enjoy the competition and have fun doing my job," she adds. "At the end of the day, it's the support from my teammates and my family back home that helps me to be proud of myself, no matter what the result is." Of course, her competitive side is still there, with her eyes set on the prize for the next 2024 Olympics in Paris.
Jacket: Under Armour; Earrings: Stylist's own
When asked if she has a role model, Dhabitah names her mother as the person she aspires to emulate in life. But when it comes to sports, it's none other than British diver Thomas Daley.

"I've been a fan of his since I was young so I've seen his progress—now he's already an Olympic champion! It's crazy to think that I used to look at this guy on TV and now I'm competing in the same sport and events that he is competing in," she gushes.

Well, we have no doubt that someone, somewhere looks up to Dhabitah in the same light. And to whoever that may be, she hopes to impart the most important lesson she has learnt from diving: never give up and always believe in yourself.
Watch: Deep diving with
Nur Dhabitah Sabri
Editor & styling / sarah hani jamil
text & creative direction / Natalie Khoo

photography / Aaron Lee | Lenswork Studio
videographY / Hazmil Japilus
makeup / Emmy Teo for Sisley Paris
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