Perhaps for its daring displays of elegance and agility, perhaps for the mystery of the green pool, diving has once again captured many imaginations at the Olympic Games. At the halfway stage of competition, as the disciplines shift from synchronized to individual, the event has hardly seemed short of drama and color.
China came to Rio with the highest of ambitions: perfection. The undisputed powerhouse of diving, which picked up six of the eight gold medals available four years ago and seven at their home Olympics in 2008, had been on course for a clean sweep this time around until Great Britain snatched the men’s synchronized 3m springboard title on Wednesday. Yet, their sustained success in the sport, thanks to its state-run sports system which cultivates athletes from a young age, has remained obvious.
The Chinese have so far reigned supreme in the diving, matched only by their own monopoly over table tennis and badminton. They lead the medal standings with three golds and one bronze, followed by Britain, and then the United States with two impressive silvers.
Sunday August 7: Women’s Synchronized 3m Springboard
The current highlight of the Chinese program took place on the opening night at the Maria Lenk Aquatics Center when Wu Minxia became the greatest champion in Olympic diving history with what looked like an easy win on the springboard alongside Shi Tingmao. The 2015 world champions scored 345.60 points from their five dives, finishing a comfortable 31.77 points clear of the Italian pair, Tania Cagnotto and Francesca Dallapé, which took silver with 313.83 points. Meanwhile, Maddison Keeney and Anabelle Smith of Australia stormed through the field for the bronze medal, having placed last after two rounds.
Victory came as a source of immense pride for China as Wu surpassed five Olympic records in the process. Almost certainly competing at her final Games, the 30-year-old had already won gold in all four Olympic events that she has entered since her debut at Athens 2004.
Wu now owns the records for the most diving gold medals and the most titles in a single discipline. She has also reached the diving rostrum at more Olympic Games than anyone else and became the most-decorated female diver, as well as the oldest female champion.
Monday August 8: Men’s Synchronized 10m Platform
Chinese athletes continued their dominance on day two of the diving contest as Chen Aisen and Lin Yue produced an insuperable display to take gold on the platform. The team finished 40 points clear of their closest competitors and turned in an Olympic record score of 496.98, including a number of perfect 10s for their fifth dive – a forward 4.5 somersault with a 3.7 degree of difficulty.
Americans David Boudia and Steele Johnson sustained second place throughout the final and overcame the pressure of the last dive to yield their highest-scoring effort for a deserved silver. Team USA has never performed better in the discipline, which marked the first career medal for Johnson in the sport that nearly killed him when the 2o-year-old split his scalp attempting a 3.5 somersault aged just 12.
Boudia, on the other hand, upgraded his synchro bronze from London 2012 and added to the individual medal that he won four years ago. He again defeated his rival, the Great Britain poster boy Tom Daley, who doubled his medal count in the flagship event, together with the 19-year-old prodigy Daniel Goodfellow.
Tuesday August 9: Women’s Synchronized 10m Platform
By the time the women took their turn on the diving tower, all the talk was about the color of the pool below, which had mysteriously changed to a swampy green overnight. Confusion abounded as conflicting theories emerged before officials in Barra da Tijuca discovered a growing alkalinity in the diving well water.
Gold, not green, was still the crucial hue for Chen Ruolin and Liu Huixia, whose intricate acrobatic maneuvers earned 354 points and provided a third Olympic title in row for China. Chen, only 23 years old, etched her name in the diving record books with her fifth gold medal on the biggest stage, having joined the Chinese national diving squad by the age of 11.
Pandelela Rinong Pamg and Cheong Jun Hoong of Malaysia claimed a straightforward silver with 344.34 points, while the Canadians, Meaghan Benfeito and Roseline Filion prevailed in a tense battle for bronze against talented North Korean and British duos.
Wednesday August 10: Men’s Synchronized 3m Springboard
Great Britain spoiled the Chinese streak in the fourth and final synchro competition as Jack Laugher and Chris Mears took home its first Olympic diving title. The pair delivered a sparkling display of guts and grace, striking gold with 454.32 points, as rain fell in the outdoor arena on a somewhat British day in Brazil.
For Laugher, it was long-awaited global recognition since becoming an ever-present on the European and Commonwealth rostrum, while Mears broke down in tears at the end of an extraordinary seven-year road to Rio. The English diver had a five per cent chance of survival after collapsing with a ruptured spleen and losing three liters of blood in 2009, so it was only the taking part that mattered at London 2012.
Michael Hixon and Sam Dorman assembled an impressive 450.21-point program to earn silver for Team USA in just their second appearance together. Hixon, who states that the mental aspect of the sport is the hardest part, had to explore his theory when a mix-up regarding the final Mexico dive stalled the American pair on the platform, but the Olympic rookies stood strong to post their highest score.
The Chinese favorites, Cao Yuan and Qin Kai, gradually lagged behind to receive 443.70 for bronze, suffering the first defeat for their nation in synchronized diving since Athens in 2004. Yet, China has still won 16 of the 20 diving events since 2000 and, with the individual contests still to come, could end Rio 2016 with seven golds.