Derek Parr, FINA Media Committee member

Malaysia’s Jun Hoong Cheong scored a dramatic upset victory over the Chinese favourites to win the women’s platform diving title in a desperately close final at the Budapest World Championships.

Cheong had collected a bronze medal in the 10m synchro earlier in the championships but, a diving veteran at 27, few would have imagined she would defeat Chinese teenagers Ren Qian and Si Yajie, global champions both, or the other teenage favourites from DPR Korea. Cheong's triumph was also the first-ever world title fo Malaysia in this discipline.

Cheong in action - Photo by Giorgio Scala/Deepbluemedia

Sixteen-year-old Olympic champion Ren had begun in champion style and picked up a pair of perfect 10s for her second dive but Cheong dislodged her from the top in the next round and in the fourth unleashed a battery of no less than four 10s for her reverse 2-1/2 somersaults.

Ren and 2013 world champion Si – the pair newly-crowned women’s world 10m synchro champions – were, however, by no means out of the hunt. Far from it: Ren was just 2.35 points behind and Si 3.10 with everything to play for, going into the last round.

Cheong, the first of the trio to dive, held her nerve with a solid last dive. Ren could not match it and, although Si – diving last – scored slightly more for her final effort, it was not enough, just 1.50 points separating the top two. Cheong won with 397.50 points, with Si taking the silver on 396.00 and Ren bronze on 391.95, a shock result which dazed the Chinese pair.

It denied Ren the opportunity of becoming the first diver to win three gold medals at a single World Championships, Ren having already won the women’s 10m synchro title with Si and the mixed 10m synchronised crown with Lian Junjie.

It was a bitter blow for Ren, who had been beaten in the platform final at the 2015 Worlds by Kim Kuk-hyang of DPR Korea, and the disappointment was etched on her face. Kim Kuk-hyang and her North Korean team-mate Kim Mi-rae had looked sure to be the greatest threat to the Chinese, having finished second to them in the synchronised platform event.

But 18-year-old defending champion Kim lost ground in the second round which she could not recover and she managed only sixth, 37.50 points behind Cheong. Sixteen-year-old Kim Mi-rae, the youngest finalist, came closer to the podium but had to settle for fourth, 11.95 points adrift of the winner.

Olympic bronze medallist Meaghan Benfeito of Canada, fourth at the Worlds in 2009 and 2011, could not mount her anticipated challenge in the final and finished eighth, while 2015 world bronze medallist Pandelela Pamg, Cheong’s 10m synchro partner in the Budapest bronze, was ninth.

Four of the nine titles so far contested have escaped China, which means they cannot match the tally of 10 out of 13 they achieved in 2015.

The women's 10m medallists - Photo by Giorgio Scala/Deepbluemedia

World championship medallists Mike Hixon of the US and Giovanni Tocci of Italy were prominent casualties in the preliminary round of the men’s 3m springboard, which involved 56 divers and stretched on for nearly four hours in an error-strewn competition.

Hixon, 1m bronze medallist in 2015, plunged down the order in the second series of dives and was never at his best, while Tocci, 1m bronze medallist here in Budapest, completely botched his reverse 3-1/2 somersaults in the fourth round, ending up feet first for zero points.

Hixon climbed back to 20th and Tocci to 24th, two fine high-scoring last dives not enough to get him a place among the top 18 semi-final qualifiers. China’s Xie Siyi, the 2015 1m world champion, led the way in the preliminary ahead of 2012 Olympic champion Ilia Zakharov, gold medallist in Budapest with Russian team-mate Evgeny Kuznetsov in the men’s 3m synchro.

Olympic silver medallist Jack Laugher (GBR) and Olympic champion Cao Yuan (CHN), each encountering problems on the way, were third and fourth. South Korea’s Woo Hiram, who came to grief on his last preliminary-round dive but still qualified, pulled out of the semi-final.

Cao showed the greatest consistency in the semi-final, amassing 517.45 points from his six dives to lead the way from Laugher (498.75), Mexico’s Rommel Pacheco (478.90) and Xie (476.50). Zakharov and Kuznetsov were both well in the picture, promising a riveting final to come.

QUOTES

CHEONG Jun Hoong (MAS), gold 

"My god, I’m a world champion! Of course it is a dream come true. It is the first gold medal at world championships in diving for Malaysia, it’s unexpected and unbelievable. I hoped a medal, but I didn’t think I could beat the Chinese divers. I have focused only for myself and I watched the scoreboard after the last dive of Si Yajie, so I realized my win only at that moment."

SI Yajie (CHN), silver

"I wanted to clinch a medal, so I’m satisfied. But much to my regret I have 1.5 points left from the gold medal. Win of Cheong is a little surprise for me, but I congratulate for her.”

REN Quian (CHN), bronze

“I did well during my first two events during these world championships, but now I am really disappointed. I wanted to perform better and get better results, even though we had to face difficulties during the trainings. As an example my height has grown a little since the Olympics, and i had some injuries also.”