The Yoong ones; ex-F1 driver's siblings skiing at SEA Games

BY foxsports • June 12, 2015

SINGAPORE (AP) There's young, and then there's the Yoongs. When it comes to competition, Hanifah Yoong believes that if you're good enough, you're old enough.

And so Adam, Hanifah Yoong's 7-year-old son, made his Southeast Asian Games debut in waterskiing this week. Adam entered the wakeboard because his two older brothers - the 38-year-old ex-Formula One driver Alex Yoong and 9-year-old Aiden - had already filled the spots on the Malaysian men's tricks team.

Aaliyah Yoong is a comparatively old hand, having won her first Southeast Asian Games gold medal in waterskiing at the age of 8 in 2011. The women's tricks title made her the youngest gold medalist in games history. She won the title again on Friday.

The 11-year-old Aaliyah has ambitions to be the best waterskier in the world. She's ranked No. 1 in the world for her age, and No. 5 among all women's waterskiers in the under-17s.

She gave Adam a big cuddle and some encouraging words as he stood ready to take off on his wakeboard for his first run in Singapore.

''I'm really proud of him. It's his first time. I just hope he does well,'' said Aaliyah, who is competing across the weekend. ''I've participated once already, this is the second (SEA Games). It's still so exciting.''

The crowd gathered on the grassy banks of the Bedok Reservoir saw a cute kid, in a big flotation vest, enter the water, and gave Adam some raucous encouragement. He got whistles and cheers when the surfer dude-sounding announcer tried to drum up louder support by telling the crowd that Adam was nine. Then came the correction - ''Wow, Adam is actually seven.''

After Adam's run, the Yoong family got together for a celebratory chant, led by Aaliyah.

It was the same song that Adam said he had running through his head while he competed, helping him keep time for his side slides, 180s, and ''roast beef'' maneuvers. When he felt really comfortable, he did a 360-degree turn and pumped his right fist to let the boat driver know to ramp up the speed.

''I feel so proud of myself,'' said Adam, who will turn eight in October. ''It was fun.''

He really did make it look like fun. Then he toweled off, did his interview, and went back to doing more kid stuff - like climbing trees and rolling down the embankments in front of the team tents at the competition venue. He placed fifth in the semifinals.

Norzeela Sulaiman had never waterskied and couldn't swim until she married Hanifah Yoong. Now, with Aaliyah, Aiden, and Adam always wanting to be on the water, she can ski, she can drive a boat, and she can coach her two young boys - using tips she's picked up from Aaliyah. Aiden earned bronze in Friday's men's tricks final, finishing two spots ahead of Alex, who fell twice during his routine.

''Sport is good for them. Helps with discipline, confidence,'' Norzeela said. ''And they love it.''

Even when she's injured and supposed to be resting, Aaliyah wants to be in the water or at the training facility at the Marina Putrajaya.

''Naturally, she loves water. If we stop her from skiing, let's say for injury, she's so hyper, she wants to be in the water,'' Norzeela said. ''She's a water baby since she was six months. After skiing, she wants to go swimming. I say, `In the lake, you already swim. Why do you need to go to the pool?'''

Aaliyah isn't inhibited by lofty goals, which include becoming the world champion. Why aim so high? ''It would be really, really, really fun.''

Alex skied competitively in his teens in the 1990s, before the facilities in Malaysia closed during an Asian financial crisis. He later embarked on an auto racing career that included a Formula One stint with Minardi in 2001 and 2002. He's back in waterskiing now, trying to keep fit and encourage his much younger siblings, children of his father's second marriage. His father, who was heavily involved in waterskiing in the 1990s, and was also running the Shah Alam auto racing circuit, got back involved in waterskiing about nine years ago in a bid to help the Asian federation.

''In 100 years of the sport, there hasn't been an Asian world champion in waterskiing,'' Hanifah said. ''To meet this aim, we had to build a new generation of skiers. To be a world champion, you have to start them at four or five. Do exactly what world champions used to do in America. You've got to start them early, find those who're really keen to want to do it.''

Initially, Hanifah was looking across the region for talented skiers, but once facilities were up and running in Malaysia, it was one of his own children who immediately grabbed attention.

''Aaliyah just jumped to it and got it like a natural really,'' Alex said. ''These guys are very, very good already. Aaliyah is much better than me at tricks already.

''The future is here. Aaliyah is actually No. 1 in the world for her age group. We're very, very optimistic. And she's got the right desire, the discipline, and the right backing to go all the way. We're very optimistic for that.''

Alex said it would take 10 to 15 years for a waterskier to reach their full potential, so ''in this particular sport, yes,'' it's crucial to get started early.

''If you want to be a world champion, especially in tricks,'' he said, ''then you need to start right now.''

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