Diving day 6 - Ilya Zakharov (RUS) triumphs in the 3m springboard
Four hours after their first gold in the Aquatics Centre (thanks to the duet in synchronised swimming), Russia celebrated their second title in the FINA sports at these Games by winning the men's 3m springboard of the diving programme. In the most thrilling and interesting final so far in this discipline, Ilya Zakharov proved that the difficult balance between choosing an easy programme (with less risks) and selecting a very complicated set of dives (with its associated chances of failing) is one of the keys for success in diving. Accumulating a total DD of 21.5 in his six dives, the Russian champion was by far the competitor who risked the most – at the end, this choice was fruitful and allowed Zakharov to end the four consecutive Olympic title streak for China in the event: Ni Xiong won the event in 1996 and 2000, Bo Peng in 2004 and Chong He in 2008.
Defending champion Chong He - who, in addition to his Olympic title, has medalled five times at the FINA World Championships - was clearly the diver to beat in the final. He had finished first in the semis and second in the preliminaries (where the Russian was better). But He never appeared to be totally serene and despite choosing also a difficult set of dives (total DD of 21.0), he lacked spark in each of them. The situation became so complicated for him that at the end of the third round (there were six) he placed fifth. He recovered to fourth after dives 4 and 5 and then mastered the forward 2 ½ somersault 3 twists (pike, DD 3.9) to finally get the bronze in a total 524.15. A disappointing result for He, used to shine at the highest level - he was 2009 and 2001 world champion in Rome and Shanghai, respectively.
"In the end, I still feel happy. I started my final very badly and I still managed the bronze! I didn't feel any pressure, I wasn't OK tonight. That's all," declared He.
Always consistent and "synchronised" with the level of difficulty selected, Zakharov took the definitive option for the gold in his sixth and last attempt, the 109C (forward 4 ½ somersault, DD 3.8), collecting a powerful 104.50 points from the judges. It was by far the best 109C of the session – the second place of this "championship" going to Chris Mears from Great Britain, with 100.70 (also his final dive, which delighted the many thousands of spectators filling the stands). Despite the local hero's effort, he finished in ninth place.
Besides his magnificent 109C, Zakharov was also the best of the field in the complicated 5156B (forward 2 ½ somersault 3 twists, pike, DD 3.9), earning 99.45 points, which sealed his winning total of 555.90. Taking part in his first Olympic Games, Zakharov (21 years old) was silver medallist in this event at the FINA World Championships in 2011. His triumph in London constitutes the first success for Russia in this event, after the victory of Aleksander Portnov (from the Soviet Union) at the 1980 Olympics in Moscow. Overall, the last gold medals for Russian divers at the Games were obtained by Dmitry Sautin in the men's 10m platform in 1996 and by Sautin with Igor Loukashin in 2000 in the 10m platform synchro. In the women's field, Vera Ilyna/Yulia Pakhalina were the last Olympic winners, also in 2000, in the 3m springboard synchro.
credit: Giorgio Scala
"I'm delighted with what happened. Too many emotions so far…" declared Zakharov. "I am very pleased to have taken at least one gold medal away from China! I remember that at the beginning of my career I didn't like to work so hard, I was complaining about the amount of training. But gradually, it became better and I decided to continue. Today it paid off," he considered.
Asked about the key for success related to this win, namely the choice of a very difficult DD, the Russian diver replied: "I wasn't thinking before my dives on what I would be able to achieve or not. My priority was just the next dive. In concrete, I believe that my well-performed last two dives were decisive for this triumph. Moreover, I wasn't paying attention to other competitors and I didn't notice what was happening with the Chinese. When I performed well my last dive and I looked into the scoreboard, all my emotions came out," he continued. "My idol in this discipline is Dmitry Sautin but I am still too young to make any kind of comparison with him," confessed Zakharov, also silver medallist in these Games with Kuznetsov in the 3m synchro. On the topic of the limits of DD in diving, he added: "If more complex dives arrive, I'll learn them. If it becomes more complicated, we will certainly be there!"
With a DD totalling 20.4, the second Chinese of this final, Kai Qin was more successful than his teammate and earned the silver medal in 541.75. Despite this success, he was in tears at the end of his effort, certainly thinking that the outcome of this final will prevent China from achieving the so awaited clean sweep of eight Olympic gold medals. Already winner in the synchronised event, Qin is a five-time gold medallist at FINA World Championships. He was the third best of the semis, after experiencing a challenging preliminary round, where his 109C was far from perfect.
"There is certainly some pressure for every athlete, but if you want to be good you have to hold on to that pressure. Tonight, he [Zakharov] was better and I sincerely congratulate him!" admitted Qin.
For China, this outcome (missing the gold) is similar to what happened in the last session of the Beijing Games when Matthew Mitcham (AUS) took gold in the men's 10m platform, or in 2007 at the FINA World Championships: in Melbourne (AUS), another Russian, Gleb Galperin also edged the Chinese on the higher board. China's consolation was a 10-gold clean sweep at home at the 2011 FINA World Championships in Shanghai. With two events to conclude the diving programme of these Games (10m platform individual for men and women), the question is naturally the following: will China recover from this "earthquake" or will other "intruders" be able to grab the gold at the Aquatics Centre?
credit: Giorgio Scala
Far behind the podium, Patrick Hausding (GER) concluded in fourth (Germany hasn't gotten any medal at these Games in Aquatics so far) while Troy Dumais (USA) and Yahel Castillo (MEX) were at some stage of the final in a good position to enter the "podium's area". In a discreet 11th place, Alexandre Despatie (CAN) was far from his glorious days – the Canadian star has a 10-medal tally from Olympic Games and World Championships.
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