Friday, July 13, 2012
China poised for golden sweep in Olympic diving
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By BETH HARRIS
AP Sports Writer
China asserted its position as the world's diving superpower at the 2004 Athens Olympics, winning six of eight events. The Chinese have only gotten better.
Four years ago at the Beijing Games, they won seven of eight gold medals on home soil. At last year's world championships -- again on home soil in Shanghai -- they won all eight golds for the first time.
They'll try to match that golden sweep at the London Games. The Chinese are positioned to pull it off, too, with their divers ranked No. 1 in the world in every event.
"The entire world is chasing China," said Greg Louganis, the four-time Olympic champion who set a standard in the 1980s that the rest of the world is still trying to match. "It's hard to compete with that. It's a Communist country, that's pretty much all they do, train, train, train. So much of their execution is muscle memory."
China's only miss in Beijing was men's 10-meter platform, where Australian Matthew Mitcham pulled the upset with a flawless final dive. He'll be in London to defend his title although he won't be the favorite because of abdominal injuries that hampered his training.
That role likely belongs to Qui Bo, a 19-year-old Chinese competitor participating in his first Olympics. He is ranked No. 1 on the tower, which has the deepest field of any diving event in London.
"He's a phenomenon, but I've seen him crack under pressure that Mitcham and (Britain's Tom) Daley put him under," said Steve Foley, high performance director for USA Diving.
American David Boudia, who finished 10th four years ago in Beijing, has a chance to duplicate Mitcham's upset. Like other international divers, Boudia has increased his degree of difficulty in the hopes of putting more pressure on the Chinese. Another possible contender is Germany's Sascha Klein, who won the silver in 10-meter synchronized platform in Beijing and finished third in individual platform at worlds last year.
"China, in perhaps that event, will have to be on their guard," Foley said.
China coach Zhou Jihong is downplaying expectations of a sweep and focusing on the challenges.
"We are confident in every category, but we know there are difficulties, with the biggest challenge in men's 10-meter platform," she said.
Like Boudia and Klein, Daley poses a threat on the tower.
"He does seem to always respond or thrive on pressure," said Foley, an Aussie who previously worked with Britain's divers, including Daley.
But strange things can happen at a home Olympics.
"You have the performance of your life or you have a nightmare," Foley said. "There's nothing in between."
The United States, meanwhile, is trying to rebound after being blanked in Athens and Beijing.
The U.S. men have not won an Olympic gold on platform since Louganis captured his second straight at the 1988 Seoul Games. The American women haven't won gold on platform since Laura Wilkinson upset the Chinese at the 2000 Sydney Games.
Foley has emphasized achieving success in synchro since replacing the retired Ron O'Brien after Beijing. The U.S. qualified teams in three of the four synchro events; there will be no Americans in 10-meter women's synchro.
At the Olympics, the synchro events are finals only; the individual events involve preliminaries, semifinals and finals.
Foley focused on partnering divers who can match each other's quality of dives and consistency. The U.S. team has a mix of veterans and newcomers unlike four years ago, when a majority of the team had never been on the pressure-packed Olympic stage.
"Now we have six synchro divers going and each one has an Olympian partnering them," Foley said. "What that means is you've got people that last time were knocking on the door but couldn't get through it. Maybe adding a bit of experience now could be the difference."
Troy Dumais tied Louganis as the only American male divers to make four Olympic teams. He will compete in both 3-meter individual and synchro springboard events. He'll partner with Olympic rookie Kristian Ipsen in synchro.
The only medal missing from Dumais' collection is one from the Olympics.
"That's the goal and the dream," he said. "That's why I'm not going to sit back."
China's women are equally as strong as its men's team.
Wu Minxia, one of her country's best-known athletes, will again be favored on 3-meter springboard. China has dominated the event since 1988, winning gold in six consecutive Olympics.
"I will do my best on every dive," said Wu, who competed in Beijing and Athens but was overshadowed by teammate Guo Jingjing, who retired in 2011.
Defending women's platform champion Chen Ruolin will be in London.
"The Chinese are great, and they almost got (a sweep) last time around, and they're absolutely phenomenal divers," American Olympic rookie Cassidy Krug said. "But every one of us is going to gun for those medals. Every one of us wants to win, so we're all going to go there and bring our best dives and we'll see."
Bronze: United States
Gold: He Chong, China
Silver: Qin Kai, China
Bronze: Ilya Zakharov, Russia
Gold: David Boudia, United States
Silver: Thomas Daley, Britain
Bronze: Victor Minibaev, Russia
Bronze: United States
Gold: Wu Minxia, China
Silver: He Zi, China
Bronze: Tania Cagnotto, Italy
Gold: Chen Ruolin, China
Silver: Hu Yadan, China
Bronze: Roseline Filion, Canada