For the majority of the countries taking part in the Games, the expectation of a gold medal, from a talented and favourite athlete to win an event, is already a good expectation. For China, in many diving finals, the dilemma is different: will they get the gold AND silver medal, and if yes, which athlete will climb to the higher march of the podium, and which will just content with silver. This was therefore the main question at the start of the third individual diving final at the Tokyo Aquatics Centre, the women’s 10m platform. After the preliminaries, Chen Yuxi finished first in 390.70, while Quan Hongchan was slightly better in the semis, totaling 415.65 for her five dives.
Entering into the decisive stage of the competition, there was no doubt that China would make the 1-2, but with which athlete in which position? To have an idea of the Chinese favourite status, the scores in the semis were amazingly clear: Quan had 415.65, Chen amassed 407.75, while Delaney Schnell (USA) was third in… 342.75!
In the final, Quan was simply exceptional, performing an absolutely flawless programme. On two of her rounds – the second one (inward 3 ½ somersaults, tuck) and the fourth one (armstand back 2 somersaults 1 ½ twists, free) – she got seven perfect 10s from all the judges! The Chinese totalled an impressive score of 466.70, clearly in front of Chen, second in “only” 425.40. The silver medallist was also quite solid in the final, but Quan was untouchable today in Tokyo, performing a programme that will for sure remain in the minds of all those who were privileged to witness this final.
It is China’s sixth gold medal in the diving competition (out of seven events contested so far), before the last event of these Olympics, the final of the men’s 10m this Saturday in Tokyo. Chen Yuxi (first presence in the Games) will be 16 on September 11 and had won the 10m synchro title with Zhang Jiaqi on July 27. She is also the current world champion in the individual 10m platform, after a brilliant performance at the 2019 FINA showcase in Gwangju (KOR). Quan is still younger (14), and gets this impressive medal at her first Olympic participation. Historically, the Asian powerhouse is dominant in this event: since 1984, this is the eighth title for China in 10 editions of the Olympics. The only non-Chinese victories during this period went to Laura Wilkinson (USA, in Sydney 2000) and to Chantelle Newbery (AUS, in Athens 2004). It is also the second 1-2 for China, after Ren Qian (gold) and Si Yajie (silver) controlled operations five years ago in Brazil.
BRONZE MEDAL: MELISSA WU
For the bronze medal, Delaney Schnell (third in both the prelims and semis) seemed in a better position to get US first medal in this event precisely since the achievement of Wilkinson 21 years ago in Australia. At 22, Schnell’s best result so far had been of course the silver medal here in Tokyo in the synchronised 10m (with Jessica Parratto), but also the third place in the individual final at the 2019 Worlds in Korea. However, some difficulties in the second and third round, spoiled the hope of being on the podium. In the end, the North American finished fifth, totalling 340.40.
In the meantime, regularity rewarded Melissa Wu, bronze medallist in 371.40. The Australian did not make any significant mistake during the five-dive final, with her best attempt being precisely the final one – back 2 ½ somersaults 1 ½ twists -, when she got 81.60 from the judges. This is the second (first individual) Olympic medal for Wu, after a silver in Beijing 2008 in the synchro 10m. At the FINA World Championshis, she was three times on the podium, always in the synchronised event (silver in Melbourne 2007 and Shanghai 2011, and bronze in Kazan 2015). The last Australian Olympic medal in the individual 10m was a silver from Brittany Broben in London 2012.
OFF FROM THE PODIUM
Other divers with medal aspirations in this final, were not as successful as Wu. Among them, Pandelela Pamg (MAS), finishing 12th and last of the final (245.85 – mainly after a disastrous first round, where she severely over-rotated and got 18.00 points for a forward 3 ½ somersaults), after previous successes in London 2012 (bronze in individual 10m) and Rio 2016 (silver in synchro 10m). Gabriela Agundez Garcia (MEX), third in the 10m synchro in Tokyo could also not provide a second medal to her country, amassing a total of 358.50 and concluding in fourth.
Before the final, the road had been difficult for Pamg, only 18th of the preliminaries, “thanks” to a challenging third and fourth round. Practically out of contention, she was “saved” by a bad fifth and last dive from Brazil’s Ingrid Oliveira, 14th since then, but then thrown to the 24th position. Noemi Batki, the experienced Italian star, was also unsecure in the preliminary phase, concluding in a disappointing 27th place (her only “acceptable” dive being the last one).
Fifth coming into the semis, Meaghan Benfeito, from Canada, was theoretically a contender for the medals in the final, but several mistakes in the first and fifth round dictated her 13th spot and non-qualification for the final. Her tears in the end of the semis reflected the frustration of a diver with three bronze medals at Olympics (including the third place in individual 10m in Rio 2016). The semis were also complicated for the first Irish female diver ever qualified for the Olympics. After finishing 16th of the prelims, Tanya Watson still improved one position, giving good indications for the future.
Quan Hongchan (CHN):
On whether she was nervous today: “I was a little nervous, but not very, just a little bit.”
On competing outside of China for the first time: “I wasn’t very used to it when we first got here, but after a few days, I adapted.”
On what her coach told her before the competition: “He just told me to relax and not be nervous.”
On her coach lifting her up after the final score: “It actually hurts a little where he lifted me up (laughs).”
On what the 14-year-old will tell her parents, who watched her competition with her foundation coach in China: “I want to thank them for encouraging me, encouraging me to relax and telling me to just go for my dives freely because it doesn’t matter whether I get a medal or not.”
On being labelled a diving prodigy: “I don’t think I’m a prodigy. I’m not very bright. I don’t do well in my studies. You ask me all these questions and there’s only a blank in my mind.”
On her younger brother and sister picking up diving and her younger sister saying she also wants to be Olympic champion one day: “I’ll tell her to continue working hard."
On how she will celebrate: “I want to eat a lot of delicious things tonight! I feel like eating latiao (a popular Chinese spicy snack) the most."
On whether she intends to compete at the Olympic Games Paris 2024: “I think I have to train well these few years before thinking about that.”
Chen Yuxi (CHN):
On making a small mistake in one of her dives today: “Yes, there was a blunder. But overall, I think my performance was not too bad, there were some difficult moves today that I don’t do very well in even during practice.”
On whether she was nervous:“Not too bad. For me, I just came gunning for results and just wanted to do what I could.”
On teammate Quan: “She has a carefree personality, but is meticulous in doing things. During competition, she holds herself well together. She was flawless today.”
On whether it was a fight between her and her teammate for gold: “She’s at a higher level than I am. I think I’m not at my peak form now, whereas she is.”
On looking emotional on the podium: “I felt emotional. You feel that all the sacrifices you made has amounted to something. Even if it’s not gold, a silver medal is also a great encouragement.”
On being Olympic medallists at such a young age (she is 15, Quan is 14): “I think the best way to deal with it is just let go. Think about your dives, not about the results. Just perform your dives as you normally would.”
On Paris 2024: “I intend to fight for my spot. I hope to continue and be there in Paris.”
On what she will tell her parents: “I will thank them. Thank them for supporting my passion all these years, and for going through so much to bring me up.”
Melissa Wu (AUS):
On being the oldest diver in the finals, at 29: “I think experience definitely helps a lot, especially when there's a bit of pressure applied. For me, the experience is not just in physically diving during the competitions, but being able to cope mentally and emotionally in those challenging situations.
"I think that's the hardest thing, as a diver, when you realise, I'm within a shot (at winning), that's when things can crumble really quickly."
On working on her mental game: "I get quite nervous in competition and as I've mentioned before, it's something I've had to work really, really hard on.
"I work with a mindset coach, we've been working together now since probably 2014. “Especially during the pandemic, when we couldn't do a lot of physical training, we worked on that.”
On what it’s like to compete with the Chinese teenagers: “I think they're amazing, they're amazing to watch and I've always looked up to all of the Chinese divers. I definitely try to emulate their work ethic and I'm so happy that they also had a really good performance today.”
On her plans for the future after four Olympics: "At the moment, I'm not really sure if I'll continue diving or not. I've built up a lot of things in my life outside of diving, so I think that will keep me busy for now.
"I’m running businesses, and I coach a younger squad of divers as well, a high-performance squad.
“I think it’s great for them to be able to have a coach that understands them and understands that it's not always about the good stuff, about the medals. There's a lot of challenges that go along with it."
On one of her downs, when she considered leaving the sport:
“Before Rio, my sister passed away and that was really, really tough for my family. I think it's something that you'd never really … you don't get over it, it’s just that time just passes and you just get used to living with it. For me that's still one of my greatest challenges that I've continued to face every day.”