A pair of nations with very different diving goals are very much on track at the London Olympics.
For the Chinese, it’s gold or bust. So far, no worries: Cao Yuan and Zhang Yanquan extended their country’s diving dominance Monday with a second victory on the boards, winning the men’s 10-meter synchronized platform.
China will be heavily favored for another synchro gold Tuesday in women’s platform, when defending champion Chen Ruolin teams with Wang Hao, the duo that won at last year’s world championships. The U.S. failed to qualify a team for that event, but any disappointment is tempered by its success so far.
David Boudia and Nick McCrory took bronze on the platform, following the silver by Kelci Bryant and Abby Johnston in women’s 3-meter springboard.
So, the country that went 12 years without a diving medal has won two in two days.
”The floodgates have opened,” said Steve Foley, the Americans’ high-performance director. ”The monkey is off our back.”
After the day off, the U.S. will be back in action Wednesday, looking for a third medal when Troy Dumais and Kristian Ipsen compete in the men’s springboard. Dumais has joined Greg Louganis as the only four-time Olympic divers for the U.S., but that’s where the comparisons end – Dumais has never won a medal.
The Americans aren’t looking back, however. They want to build a new legacy.
”It’s great for the sport,” McCrory said. ”If we can inspire more kids to start diving, that’s the hope. That’s how I started. I watched the Olympics on TV, pointed at it and said, ‘That’s what I want to do.’ And now I’m here. I want the sport to grow. I just hope we inspired some people.”
China has no such concerns.
The goals are much loftier: to become the first nation to sweep all eight events since synchro was added to the program in 2000. Four years ago, the Chinese won the first seven events before Australia’s Matthew Mitcham pulled off a huge upset in platform.
Cao and Zhang totaled 486.78 points in their six-dive final, spoiling the gold-medal hopes of Britain’s Tom Daley and Peter Waterfield, who were doomed by a major mistake in the fourth round.
”If you miss a dive in this kind of field, then you’re out,” Daley said.
The 17-year-old Cao and 18-year-old Zhang are Olympic rookies. But they were unflappable while launching themselves off the 33-foot tower before a partisan crowd shouting ”GB! GB!”
The teenagers led Mexico by 10.28 points after the fifth round, but came up big on their final dive, a back 2 1/2 somersault with 2 1/2 twists pike that earned 99.36 points. There was barely a ripple as they sliced through the water.
Still, Cao wasn’t sure they had won until the Mexican duo had finished.
”They still had a chance because of their level of difficulty,” he said.
German Sanchez and Ivan Garcia of Mexico had the highest degree of difficulty in the competition and it paid off with the silver. They scored 468.90 to earn Mexico’s first Olympic medal in men’s synchronized diving.
”We are still in awe about what just happened,” Sanchez said.
He and Garcia pulled off their trickiest dive, an inward 4 1/2 somersault tuck with a 4.1 degree of difficulty, for the highest score of 95.95 in the fourth round.
”We tried it so many times in the last few days and we were not doing it right, but it’s a dive that we have been doing for so long that we did not want to take it out,” Sanchez said. ”Everybody said that it was foolish to have a dive with such a big degree of difficulty, but here’s the result. Those critics made us better.”
McCrory and Boudia were third with 463.47.
”It’s not real yet,” Boudia said. ”We were about ready to walk out and we were like, ‘Oh, we just got third, we’re bronze medalists.’ I think it will sink in once you see your family, you celebrate, you’re on the ‘Today’ show.”
The Brits were flying high with the lead through the first three rounds.
”We were on the highest scores that we’ve ever got so far after the third dive,” Daley said. ”We were doing really well and the crowd out there were just fantastic.”
But they botched their fourth dive and dropped to fourth, where they eventually finished with 454.65. They were in position to give the host country its first gold of the games, and first in diving, but they couldn’t recover from their error.
”It’s the worst place to finish at the Olympics,” Waterfield said. ”I would have rather finished last because then at least you know you’ve missed every dive.”
The crowd, so raucous before the competition and through the early rounds, gasped when Daley and Waterfield missed on a reverse 3 1/2 somersault tuck.
Both men were out of sync in opposite directions and resembled a V entering the water instead of being in vertical positions. Their mistake allowed the Chinese to regain the lead for good.
Daley kicked his feet too early and slightly under-rotated, while Waterfield kicked too high, over-rotated and created a major splash.
”Unfortunately,” Waterfield said, ”that left us with too much to do in the last two rounds.”