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Under pressure

Qiu Bo settled for silver behind Thomas Daley at the 2009 World Championships in Rome, his only defeat to the Briton in major international competitions. The two are scheduled for a marquee showdown in London on Saturday. (AFP Photo)

Publication Date : 11-08-2012

 

Diver Qiu Bo and his British rival Tom Daley face heavy expectations of victory from their homelands, Chen Xiangfeng reports in London.

Chinese diver Qiu Bo wears a jade necklace and a bracelet with gold coins as good luck charms.

His British counterpart Tom Daley doesn't rely on superstition. The Briton is the darling of the Aquatics Center crowd, and the two rivals will meet in the men's 10m synchronised final on Saturday night (Sunday morning Beijing time).

Since China unexpectedly lost the men's 3m springboard final - which it usually dominates - to Russian underdog Zakharov Ilya, British fans have more reason to expect their diving sensation will grab another gold.

The ambitious Chinese diving team had originally sought to sweep all eight gold medals at the London Games.

Daley, 18, who knocked Qiu into second place at the 2009 World Championships, was cheering on Twitter right after China's 3m springboard flop.

He realised the 3m springboard failure offered him new hope and placed additional pressure on the Chinese team.

"Crazy night at the pool. Chinese domination is over in the men's 3m springboard event! Well done," he tweeted.

Qiu, 19, who beat Daley at last year's World Championship, tries to keep a low profile and avoids speculations about their clash, which he believes are distractions.

He said he will only focus on himself.

"The biggest challenge is for me to beat myself. The aim is to win everything," he said.

"I never think about winning the gold medal (in London). I focus on good preparation. If I perform well, the results speak for themselves."

China claimed seven out of eight gold at the Beijing Games, all 10 gold at last year's World Championships and all eight at this year's diving World Cup in February.

Many Chinese would consider it unacceptable for Qiu to lose because China would then only take six gold in London.

"China was expected to sweep every gold before the Games," China Youth Daily sports reporter Guo Jian said.

"Now, it has lost one in the men's 3m springboard. It can't afford to lose another one. Coming home with six gold medals is like losing."

China's former diving queen Gao Min said the Chinese have some psychological disadvantages compared to foreign athletes, especially in high-difficulty dives.

"All the foreigners regard themselves as challengers, and they have the courage to undertake difficult dives," Gao said.

"It does not matter if they fail. But if they make it, they have a good chance of beating the Chinese.

"So, it's sometimes a contradiction for Chinese. If you choose to make relatively low-difficulty dives and stay consistent, you might be beaten. If you choose high-difficulty dives, you take the risk of making big mistakes."

Australian Matthew Mitcham was a great example at the Beijing Games. His last dive, which scored 112.10 points - the highest single-dive total - earned him a gold medal that had been expected to go to Chinese favorite Zhou Luxin.

Daley is also not satisfied with silver at home.

"Normally in diving, silver is gold because the Chinese dominate everything, but you never know what can happen in the Olympic Games," he said.

'Extra adrenaline rush'

Both face high expectations from their homelands.

British reports said: "London will be about an 18-year-old British platform specialist who will bring a nation to a standstill on Aug 11."

Daley, who reached the Beijing final as a 14-year-old and won the world title in 2009, was even criticised by his own federation earlier this year for his casual work ethic and glut of endorsements.

"That's all in the past now," Daley said.

"I've been training as hard as I possibly can. I've been working as hard as I can."

The diving idol explained that he views the pressure as a positive push.

"Pressure isn't a bad thing," he said. "I quite like pressure going into a competition. In a competition, divers either handle pressure or they don't. I've had pressure going into competition for a long time now, and it's something I've been able to get used to.

"For me, when you are under pressure, in theory, it should bring out the best of you because you've got that extra adrenaline rush."

Daley said it has been a tough year for him. His father died in 2011.
"Going into this competition, the only thing I can focus on is my performance," he said.

"I know all my family are going to be there, watching. (I'm) really looking forward to having my family there. It's always there in the back of your head. It would be extra special if I could do well at these Games."

Qiu faces greater pressure from his homeland. It's up to him to maintain China's top position in the event and to live up to his moniker, "Mr Full Mark".

Chinese diving manager Zhou Jihong is confident about Qiu's techniques but admitted psychology is the key to Qiu's Olympic debut.

"I'm not worried about Qiu's technique because he has mastered it," Zhou said.

"I'm just worried about whether he can stand the pressure. The Olympics are different from other tournaments. It could be a challenge for him."

 

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