China gets first gold, Canada and Australia qualify for the Olympics
The first diving final of the FINA World Championships Shanghai 2011 started almost three hours before the official opening ceremony and it was a real champions’ fight. Besides the result, this event had a “special” meaning for all participants: the three best synchro teams could qualify for the Olympics and every country dreamed about a place on the podium.
Speaking about synchronised diving we usually mean that there is just two vacant places on the podium – the champion’s one is occupied in principle by China.
It’s difficult to predict otherwise: there were just two examples in synchronised diving women’s history when gold medals went to non-Chinese divers. In 1998, in Perth (AUS), Irina Lashko and Yulia Pakhalina from Russia got the first place at the FINA World Championships. Two years later, Vera Ilyina/Yulia Pakhalina (RUS) won the Olympics in Sydney (where synchro events were for the first time part of the Games) and that was, so far, the last non-Chinese victory in this event.
Shanghai “home” championships brought the fifth gold to Wu Minxia and the first one to her younger compatriot He Zi. Since the 2001 FINA World Championships in Fukuoka (JPN), Wu Minxia was the partner of the great China diving star Guo Jingjing. She missed the team only once, in 2005, but is since then part of the winning duet.
Wu Minxia and He Zi from China - credit: Giorgio Scala
After the double victory in Rome (ITA), in 2009, Guo Jingjing retired and Wu Minxia got a new partner. However, He Zi is not a newcomer: she got her first FINA World Championships gold in 2007 in Melbourne. But not in the Olympic event. The young Chinese had won the 1 metre springboard, while the top places on 3m were occupied by her experienced teammates.
Last season’s World Cup brought He Zi her first “real” gold: she got double victory on 3m springboard, both individual and synchro.
In the preliminary round in Shanghai, Wu Minxia and He Zi easily won the contest (324.90 – 33 points ahead of the second place) and got the last starting position for the final. It was quite unusual to see the Ukrainian duo Anna Pysmenska/Olena Fedorova on the second place: the divers of this country never reached the top in the past, but they did it and left behind the silver medallists of the previous Championships, Italy’s Tania Cagnotto and Francesca Dallape.
The first two final rounds (the dives with limited difficulty) didn’t change things among the leaders. However, things behind got tighter: the difference between the places 2-8 was less than five points. After the first free dive, China increase its lead, with Canada (Emilie Heymans/Jennifer Abel) in second and Italy quite close behind.
The first big mistake came in the fourth round from the side of the French team Fanny Bouvet/Marion Farissier: the girls spoiled the entry in one of the most difficult dives of the women’s programme – 2.5 Reverse Pike position (305B).
This round made completely clear what makes the dives of the Chinese athletes better: everything. The dive 305B (DD 3.0) requires a lot of qualities from the diver and is a real challenge for most of the female athletes. So it is somehow normal that France wasn’t the only team who did a serious mistake in this dive. USA and Russia also had bad luck. But not China.
Wu Minxia/He Zi got 9.0 – 9.5 from the judges and the result of the dive totalled 83.70 (10 points better than in the preliminary round and the best score of the day) and the total score superiority was increased to 33.90.
Meanwhile, four other teams were still close: the point difference between Canada, Australia, Ukraine and Italy was less than four points before the last round.
Canada did its best in a 2.5 Forward with one twist (DD 3.0) and finished second. Australia (Anabelle Smith/Sharleen Stratton) was lucky to be third. Tania Cagnotto was also trying to do her best and to take the leading role in the duet as always, but an injured hand prevented her from having clean entries in some of the dives.
The bronze medallist of 2009 FINA World Championships – Russia – finished eighth. There was, however, an explanation: Anastasia Pozdnyakova competed in Rome with the famous Yulia Pakhalina. At the end of that season, Pakhalina announced that she would retire and a year later gave birth to a child. This year, Yulia changed her mind and made the decision to continue diving. Her first competition is planned to be in December in Russia so probably she will be back to the international scene for the Olympic qualification at the upcoming FINA World Cup 2012 in London (GBR).
The last attempt of the leaders was really remarkable: Wu Minxia/He Zi got their first perfect “10” for a 2.5 Back Pike and repeated their own point record – 83.70. The dive was technically perfect - with a high, clean and fast rotation, absolutely synchronised as it was one diver and his shadow but not two different persons.
Wu Minxia and He Zi finished with 356.40 - 42.90 ahead the Canadians.