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What makes Chinese divers strong

Posted July. 17, 2019 07:59,   

Updated July. 17, 2019 07:59


China’s national diving team is called a dream team that never fails to earn international acclaim. If the United States has its “Avengers” in basketball to sweep global competitions, China has a “Justice League” in diving that has remained unbeaten for decades.

Since diving was formally adopted in the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles, Chinese divers have earned 40 gold medals in diving in the Olympic games. China has not let any other countries take the gold in the women’s 3-meter springboard since 1988, and in the women’s 10-meter platform since 2000. Things are the same for the FINA World Aquatics Championships. Since 1973, 83 out of 138 gold medals had been given to Chinese athletes until the opening of the 2019 FINA World Championships in Gwangju, Korea. As of Tuesday, China has won seven gold medals in seven events and is poised to sweep the remaining games. Naturally, in China, diving seems to be granted the same status as that of its national sport, table tennis.

As China has dominated the field for so long, some joke that there is no secret whatsoever to Chinese divers’ excellence. However, the country is well known for its method of nurturing young athletes through intense training.

In 1991, Fu Mingxia, at the age of 12 years and 6 months, became the youngest champion to win the women’s 10-meter platform at the World Championships in Australia. Yet, a strenuous training program she had to go through sparked controversies, and the rules were changed to require all swimming athletes of international competitions to be at least 14 years old. Still, the change did not stop young aspiring divers of China from working tirelessly, as seen in the case that Lu Wei and Zhang Jiaqi, 14 and 15 years old, respectively, won the latest competition’s 10-meter synchro platform. Meanwhile, it is deemed a mystery in the swimming world that China has not grasped a single medal in high diving (for which men jump from a 27-meter-high platform and women from a 20-meter-high platform) since it debuted as a sport in 2013.

Xu Yiming, former manager of China’s national diving team, is also a leading figure who has laid the groundwork for the future divers’ success. Having been a diver himself, Xu invented meshes and an underwater cleaner to improve the training environment so that divers can better avoid injuries. He also developed as many as 23 new techniques suitable for Chinese athletes, who are smaller and more agile than Western divers.

Diving stars such as Guo Jingjing also contributed to the growth of the sport. Selected to dive for the national team at the age of 11, Guo won a total of four gold medals in the 2004 Summer Olympics in Athens and in the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games, becoming one of the most popular sports stars along with basketball player Yao Ming. She once again made headlines when she married one of China’s richest men after retirement. Today, Guo and her astonishing records are still a dream that many young Chinese divers desire to achieve.

Bae-Jung Kim wanted@donga.com