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Young Divers Primed for 2008
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China's diving team is less concerned about continuing their gold winning streak, which stretches back to the 1984 Games, than sweeping all titles at the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

On Sunday, the nation's "dream team" wrapped up a perfect rehearsal at the World Cup, held in Changshu, Jiangsu Province, taking all 13 titles and performing this feat for the second time in one of the biggest international competitions since 1993.

The sweep is set to consolidate China's leading position in the sport as the country has won 106 golds at the World Cups, a record achieved over 25 years.

"We did show an outstanding performance overall at this tournament. The team has begun to prepare for the 2008 Beijing Olympics and we will learn lessons from this competition and try to be the best in 2008," said Zhou Jihong, manager of the national team.

China fielded a team made up mostly of teenagers, six of whom have not yet competed internationally.

But their performances show signs of a bright future.

"Some young players put on amazing performances in their first major competitions. It is a good chance to gain experience and improve skills," Zhou said.

The biggest surprise comes from Jia Tong.

The 15-year-old girl from Sichuan Province ended China's three-year title drought in the women's 10-metre platform in the three major tournaments: the World Cup, the World Championships and the Olympics. Jia also paired with Chen Ruolin to win the women's 10-meter synchronized platform.

"We are really, really happy to win because both of us are World Cup debutantes," said Jia, who has been named as the hot title contender for the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

Wu Minxia, a teenager who lives in the shadow of women's top player Guo Jingjing, is also in the spotlight after her first-time victory over Guo in the women's three-metre springboard in international competitions.

Thanks to those emerging teens, China trounced traditional powerhouse diving nations, including the United States, who placed a distant second with three silver and two bronze medals, and Russia, who only managed two silvers and a bronze.

With Olympic champion Tian Liang still off the national team for engaging in too many commercial activities and Olympic gold medallists Hua Jia, Peng Bo and Yang Jinghui sidelined because of injuries, He Chong, Lin Yue, Huo Liang and Zhou Luxin - all teenagers - collected four golds and a silver in the men's events.

Room to improve

Despite the encouraging results, Zhou voices concern.

"Actually, Despatie and Sautin didn't come. Besides, the Olympics and the World Cup are two different matters," she said.

"The selection for the Olympics will start next year. I am concerned about whether or not those young players will have stable conditions then."

Describing the team as "new-born calves without fear of tigers," Zhou also asked young players to keep composure and make extra efforts to improve.

"It doesn't mean victory at the Olympics. All matches have their surprises. They need to be careful," she said.

"We also made mistakes during the competition. He Chong's blunder in the three-metre springboard cost him a medal. Jia Tong's victory in the 10-metre platform also cannot hide her mistakes in two dives.

"We need to polish our skills after the event and work more on keeping stability."

Zhou believed China did not have a clear advantage and said they will try to pay more attention to quality and stability.

In the women's 10-metre platform, defending American Laura Wilkinson displayed a set of dives whose difficulty degree reached 17.2 - 1.1 higher than those of champion Jia Tong and runner-up Lao Lishi of China.

The 2000 Olympic title winner and 2005 world champion completed the whole set in the semis to grab the highest score of 396.10 points.

Teenager Lin Yue successfully completed his trademark dive - a backward two-and-a-half somersault and two-and-a-half twist twice in the men's 10-metre platform to collect 106.40 points, while Russian Alexy Kravchenko also executed the dive well enough to earn 104.50 points.

David Boudia from the United States was also impressive in the men's 10-metre platform, using a set of dives reaching a difficulty degree of 20.7 0.4 higher than Lin Yue's. The American defeated the Chinese hopeful in the preliminary but failed to enter the final because of some blunders in the semis.

(China Daily July 26, 2006)

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