Jennet Lee Jeng Yen: Chasing The Olympic Dream
“The best preparation for tomorrow is to do your best today and don't settle for average.” - Jennet Lee Jeng Yen
Taekwondo has come a long way. After all these years, it finally became the official Olympic sport at the 2000 Sydney Games. This was welcome news for those whose lives revolve around the sport, especially Jennet Lee Jeng Yen, who has devoted over 26 years of her life to taekwondo.
The World Taekwondo has recently announced the selection of the top-50 best international referees who are eligible to compete and secure one of the thirty spots for the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo. Jennet is the only Malaysian who is qualified for the Olympics taekwondo referee selection.
Never fail to show her professionalism in every competition, Jennet not only puts Malaysia on the world map, she is also slowly gaining a favourable reputation at international taekwondo events.
By sharing her story, Jennet hopes to inspire more youths to become professional athletes, especially those who want to kick-start a career in Taekwondo.
Besides participating in World Taekwondo events, Jennet teaches physical education at Sri Kuala Lumpur International School. Being an educator gives her the opportunity to reach out to students and help them foster a life-long love of healthy activity and sports. She is thankful for all the support and encouragement the Sri KL principal, Mr Chew Teck Ann has given her in times of need.
At what age you began to show interest in sports? What was your favourite sport?
When I was seven, I enjoyed running and playing different kinds of sports with my schoolmates. Later, I developed an interest in badminton after watching Malaysia badminton team competed in the Thomas Cup. I picked up my first badminton racket at the age of ten and played badminton throughout my primary school years. I couldn't think of a more fun way to spend my free time. I won some trophies after joining several local badminton competitions.
Did your family support your decision to make sports a priority?
In the old days, most people had no interest in making a career in sports because it didn’t pay well. There was no money to be made by being an athlete. Many considered playing sports was a waste of time and not a smart thing to do. Fortunately, my parents were open-minded. They didn’t stop me from joining sports. So I continued to stay involved in sports during my teenage years.
At what age you developed an interest in Taekwondo?
I have always liked martial art. My favourite movie is Wong Fei Hung, the famous martial artist from Guangdong province. He is one of the most respected folk heroes among the Chinese community worldwide, even today. I was mesmerized by his kung fu movements. Due to various reasons, I didn’t have a chance to learn taekwondo until high school. I was hooked on it from the start. I had a coach but I didn’t get to see him often. So I taught myself basic taekwondo movements and worked on my balance and flexibility two to three times per week.
How did you end up joining the Malaysia Taekwondo team?
The opportunity came to me in the year of 2009. There were open selections for the South East Asia Games (SEA Games) Taekwondo Poomsae event. I wanted to join the SEA Games, so I pushed myself to the limit and trained very hard daily. I spent countless hours to perfect my techniques and improve the speed of my kicks and strikes. Finally, all my hard work paid off. I was selected to represent Malaysia for this particular event. This was my first international competition. I won a bronze medal. The experience helped pave the way to World Taekwondo Poomsae Championship. This was the turning point in my life. I decided to make a career out of the sport I love.
What led you to become a coach? What are the characteristics of your favourite athletes?
I have always dreamt of becoming a world-class athlete who could perform at the highest level. I wanted to leave a mark on the Olympic Games. However, as the years go by, my body is not as flexible as it used to be. So becoming a coach is a perfect choice for me to remain in the world of sports. Having international work experience has broadened my horizons, helped me develop other skills and keep sight of life's bigger picture. The more exposure I get, the more I can use my experience to touch someone's life in a positive way. My favourite athletes are those who remain humble no matter how successful they have become. They are always passionate about learning and striving for continuous improvement. Great athletes focus on greater good, they lift those around them.
What have you learned from the overseas sports coaches?
In the West, coaching ideas are different. This is due to the different types of training they received. They are not afraid of change and constantly upgrading themselves to stay ahead in their career. As the World Taekwondo has introduced new competition rules over the past few years, I have learned to become more flexible and adaptable due to the ongoing training I received from them. Learning from experts of different cultures can be an invaluable experience.
What made you decide to become an international Taekwondo referee?
In 2017, I had a fall that sprained and fractured my ankle. This limits my movements and prevents me from demonstrating some of the fighting styles and self-defense techniques to my students. Basic moves in taekwondo usually involve strikes and blows by the arms and attacking moves require the use of legs extensively. To some people, having injury means giving up the sports they love. However, taekwondo is more than a sport to me, it is a part of my identity, a place to be myself. After much thought and consideration, I decided to focus on what I could do instead of what I couldn’t. I made up my mind to become an international taekwondo referee. So I took a leap of faith and put myself out there once and for all to create a new career path.
What are the requirements to become an international referee?
I attended international referee courses and passed a series of written tests and practical examinations. Later, I was appointed as an international taekwondo referee at an international level taekwondo competition. After that, more opportunities came to me from different countries and I have been appointed to different international taekwondo competitions promoted by the World Taekwondo.
What are your future goals?
Last year, I was appointed by the World Taekwondo as one of the referees for the Buenos Aires 2018 Summer Youth Olympics Taekwondo event in Argentina. This year, I am just working as hard as I can to prepare myself to qualify for the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games. I feel very grateful for the opportunity to be selected as one of the fifty finalists by the World Taekwondo. However, to be officially accepted as one of the thirty Olympic referees, I must complete and pass a series of tests to make my dream come true. As for my future goals, I see myself continue on the same path. I am happy when I am doing what I do best.
- Won her first Bronze Medal, Taekwondo Poomsae Category in SEA GAMES 2009
- Won her first Gold Medal, Taekwondo Poomsae Category in ASEAN Championship 2013
- Participated at the World Poomsae Taekwondo Championships in Egypt 2009, in Indonesia 2013, in Peru 2016
As a National Coach:
- Brought Malaysia taekwondo team to World Taekwondo Championship, Tunja, Colombia 2012
As an International Referee:
- Awarded the Best Referee in World Taekwondo Cadet Championships 2017 in Eygpt
- Awarded the Best Referee in World Team Taekwondo Championships 2017 in Cote D’ivore
- Awarded the Best Referee in Luxembourg Taekwondo Championship 2017
- Awarded the Best Referee in Belgium Taekwondo Championship 2018
- Awarded the Best Referee in US Open Taekwondo Championship 2019
Awarded medal ‘Pingat Kecemerlangan Sukan‘ ( P.K.S ) by the Sultan Selangor on his 72nd birthday. These awards are meant to acknowledge the outstanding performance of Malaysian athletes in 2018.
Note: This article was written in 2019. Here is the latest update (2021). Finally, Jennet is appointed as one of the taekwondo referees for the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games. Dreams do come true!
Article written for Dreamic educational magazine, 2019