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Tian's Birthday Gold Brings China Sixth Diving Title

Olympic and world championships titlist Tian Liang proved he is the undisputed world No.1 on the highboard when he clinched the title on his 22nd birthday Monday in the Universiade diving pool.

Tian, who was first going into the final, extended his lead with each of his six final dives and clinched the gold with 725.49 points from his four semifinal and six final dives.

He was a stunning 81 points ahead of the second, reigning Universiade champion Cuban Jose Guerra, who got 644.04.

Ukraine's Roman Volod'kov, reigning European platform champion, was less than two points back on 642.99 points, trailed by Mexican veteran Fernando Platas, who collected 627.15 points to place fourth.

Another Chinese diver Li Chengwei, who was third going to the final, faltered with his third and fifth dives in the final, and finished a disappointing fifth with 614.37 points.

Tian, who turns 22 Monday, kept audience and his rivals standing in awe with his near perfect performance throughout the final. He collected five perfect 10s during the final, the only 10 s judges awarded in the day.

In the third round of the final, Tian pulled off a gorgeous armstand backward triple somersaults in pike which ranked 3.6 in degree of difficulty, which netted him a day-high score of 94.50 points.

He followed it up with another extraordinary dive in the fifth round, an inward three and a half somersaults in tuck, earning four perfect 10s and three 9.5s for a score of 94.08 points, the second highest score in the day.

In the last round, Tian needed only 11.37 points to nail the gold. But he won another perfect 10 and a score of 92.82 points for a reverse three and a half somersaults in tuck position, which sealed his first ever Universiade title and the sixth for China in as many events.

The crowd were virtually mad about Tian, who has been enjoying a pop star status in China for both his sports talent and handsome features. An ecstatic home crowd burst into thunderous cheers each time Tian was introduced before a dive, or after he finished a dive.

"Happy Birthday, Tian Liang!" one of the banners read. "Go! Go! Tian Liang!" a mainly teen and 20-odd crowded shouted enthusiatically.

Tian, who turned 22 Monday, took the highboard title at the Sydney Olympics last year and won both individual and synchronized highboard titles at the Fukuoka World Championships last month.

Tian was extremely confident going to the games, his first ever Universiade outing. "I'm always confident to win. I won't let my countrymen down," said Tian prior to the games.

The teenage heartthrob has become increasingly popular as China embarks on the way to host the 2008 Olympics. His photos are virtually flowing everywhere on the press and commercial signboards.

China has had a great Universiade in the diving pool, scooping all six titles in as many events and four silvers in the past five days.

(People's Daily 08/28/2001)

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