Consistent Chinese teams mine gold

Updated: August 14, 2004, 8:45 PM ET
Associated Press

ATHENS, Greece -- No surprises in Olympic diving Saturday: China won the first two golds in what is expected to be a rather large haul of medals.

Tian Liang and Yang Jinghui took the men's synchronized 10-meter platform title, and Wu Minxia and Guo Jingjing won the women's synchronized 3-meter springboard.

While other teams performed a better single round than the Chinese in both the men's and women's events, diving's superpower -- China won 10 of 24 diving medals at the 2000 Games in Sydney -- was simply more consistent.

Tian and Yang won with a score of 383.88 points. Peter Waterfield and Leon Taylor of Britain took the silver with 371.52 and Australia's reigning world champions Mathew Helm and Robert Newbery repeated their bronze medal from Sydney with 366.84.

Tian had teamed with Jia Hu to win the silver in Sydney.

"I lost this gold medal four years ago, so today I feel all the hard work the past four years has paid off," Tian said.

Yang thanked his family and support staff.

"Every Chinese is very concerned about diving. It's in the heart of every Chinese, but only my family's support enables me to do this," he said.

Hitting the water at about 34 miles per hour from the highest platform, the Chinese were first or second in each of their five dives, while the British pair started out with a fourth and a sixth before moving into contention in the later rounds.

After the Chinese pair garnered a solid, if unspectacular, 91.80 with their final dive (a back 3½ somersault pike), Waterfield and Taylor needed 102.42 points (a 9.0 average) in the final dive of the night to win. As soon as the Brits left the platform, however, it was clear that their timing was off in a back 2½ somersault 2½ twists pike, and they managed only 90.06 points.

Still, second place was good for Britain: It was the country's first Olympic diving medal since the 1960 Rome Games.

"We were aware of that before we started today," Waterfield said. "This will raise the profile a bit. It's a great sport to watch."

The much taller Taylor said part of the problem catching the Chinese was their eighth and final starting position.

"We had to watch all the other divers before us, so that makes it kind of difficult," he said. "But the rest of the world is working hard to catch up to the Chinese. ... And we're getting a little closer, which is making the sport more interesting."

The Australians were unhappy with their bronze and skipped the press conference for medal winners.

Wu and Guo took their title by easily beating their only serious rivals -- the Russian team of Vera Ilina and Julia Pakhalina -- with a score of 336.90 points. Ilina and Pakhalina took the silver with 330.84 and the Australian pair of Irina Lashko and Chantelle Newbery claimed the bronze with 309.30.

Wu and Guo also won at the 2003 world championships in Barcelona ahead of Pakhalina and Ilina, while the Russian duo beat the Chinese in Sydney.

The Russians, diving ahead of the Chinese, put the pressure on in the final round with the highest scored dive of the event -- a forward 2½ somersault with one twist that brought the fans to their feet and earned 82.80 points.

However, China's more consistent early dives provided a comfortable lead heading into the final round and Wu and Guo calmly executed a reverse 2½ somersault for 75.60 points.

"I think maybe we made a small error in our third jump and maybe that's where we lost the event," Pakhalina said. "In the last dive, we would have had to get two 10s and that never happens."

Russia, which won four medals in Sydney, is aiming for at least five medals in diving here, with two-time gold medalist Dmitry Sautin expected to lead the way. Sautin's first competition will be the 3-meter springboard synchro Monday with partner Alexander Dobroskok.

Synchronized diving, in which two divers leap at the same time from adjacent boards, made its Olympic debut in Sydney, doubling the overall number of events in the sport from two to four. Nine judges -- two more than for individual diving -- are broken down into a group of four that inspects individual dives and five that review synchronization.

Each of the eight teams perform five sets of dives.

The diving pool, part of a complex built for the 2001 European championships, shares the same venue as the adjacent water polo pool and is indoors, as opposed to the sweltering main pool outdoors that is hosting the traditional swimming events.

Women's 10-meter platform synchro also will be held Monday. The individual diving competition begins Friday, with nine straight days of competition.


Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press