London 2012, Day 3: Double gold keeps Chinese diving streak alive
China extended its unbeaten streak at the 18th FINA Visa Diving World Cup in London (GBR) on February 22 when Ruolin Chen won the women's 10m platform synchro with Hao Wang, for a total score of 359.58. Already stunning in the individual same event, the Chinese great stole the show again in the synchro event in what was an expected victory. Canadian pair Meaghan Benfeito/Roseline Filion beat home Sarah Barrow and Tonia Couch (GBR) for silver. The Canadians improved their bronze medal finish from two years in Changzhou (CHN), totalling 331.65 points while the duo from the host country confirmed their place among the world's best with an overall 314.40.
Canada, Germany, Ukraine and Malaysia join China, Australia, Mexico and Great Britain in the list of participants for the diving's Olympic final at the 2012 London Games.
Among men, China's He Chong successfully defended his gold medal in the 3m springboard, repeating the same scenario from two years ago where compatriot Kai Qin had to settle for silver. Chong's score of 535.35 left little chance to Qin, who finished with a total 524.00 points. Canada's diving star Alexandre Despatie claimed the bronze with an overall 511.95.
Already in the semi-final, Chinese divers Chong and Qin, both Olympic and World champions, set very high standards of difficulty. Chong was the first diver in the world to successfully perform the most complicated combination – 2.5 Forward with three twists. But it is a well-known fact in diving that when one is doing an outstanding dive, it takes little time for the others to do the same.
The diver to perform the most complicated free programme in London was not Chinese, however. Two-time World Championship medallist Illya Zakharov (RUS) performed the same twist dive - a 4.5 Forward in tucked position - as He Chong, Kai Qin, Illya Kvasha (UKR), Yahel Castillo (MEX) and Ethan Warren (AUS) but was the only one to do a 3.5 Back Tuck. The third place obtained thanks to his eye-opening performances made the Russian diver the most evident rival for both Chinese, just 1.55 point behind Kai Qin.
"When you compete with the Chinese guys, you’re not able to relax," had admitted Zakharov last summer in Shanghai. In London, the diver looked totally focused, which earned him a 91.80 mark for his first dive - a 3.5 Inward Tuck whereas He Chong scored "only" 79.50 points.
At the end of round 2, Zakharov was still leading with 175.80 but all of a sudden, he spoiled the entry of his following dive - a 3.5 Reverse. That was quite unpredictable since the diver had been performing this combination for a long time. The next mistake was made by runner-up Kai Qin, who performed exactly the same combination as Zakharov and got similar marks. As a result, they dropped to seventh (Qin) and ninth (Zakharov) positions.
He Chong consolidated his lead after the third round with Illya Kvasha (UKR) behind. The surprise in the following round came from newcomer Jack Lougner (GBR) who took fourth. It was unusual to see, at this stage of the competition, experienced divers like Alexandre Despatie (CAN) behind a fresh face of the diving world scene. The situation at the top was also unusual with only a slim margin of 2 points separating Chong and Kvasha.
The decisive fifth round was a huge disappointment for the home crowd: Lougner over rotated his most complicated dive - a 4.5 Forward, Tuck. Reflecting on his compatriot's performance, Great Britain's brightest diving star Thomas Daley said: "This is the hardest dive we do. We have to do a run-up from the back of the board and as you approach, it’s like a hop, skip and a jump. You need quick reactions with your feet to jump up at the end of the board and get as much height on the dive as possible. The take-off is the hardest thing and it is crucial because if you get it wrong you won’t make the dive. You have to get into a tucked position really quickly, then squeeze all the way around to get in the four and a half somersaults. The next step is to kick out of the dive quickly into the straight position. It can be a make-or-break dive in any competition."