China finishes 1-2 in women's Olympic platform diving
China has its next diving superstar.
Actually, two of them.
Fifteen-year-old Ren Qian captured another diving gold medal for China on Thursday, producing five nearly flawless efforts off the women's 10-meter platform to beat her 17-year-old teammate, Si Yajie.
Ren finished with 439.25 points, while Si settled for silver at 419.40 in a back-and-forth duel that wiped out any would-be contenders.
"I focused on each individual dive. I focused on my own routine," Ren said through a translator. "I was thinking about my movements, my dives. I didn't overthink about the final score."
Early on, a pair of Canadians, Meaghan Benfeito and Roseline Filion, along with American Jessica Parratto managed to stay close to the mighty Chinese teenagers.
By the end, Benfeito was the only one anywhere close, grabbing the bronze at 389.20. Filion dropped to sixth and Parratto botched two straight dives, plummeting all the way to 10th.
As for the Chinese, they never wavered.
"They're the best at the sport," Benfeito said. "They're born to dive. I really admire them. I love diving against them and trying to push them even harder."
Seamlessly filling the void left by two-time Olympic champion Chen Ruolin, Ren and Si took turns seeing who could out-do the other. Their spins were quicker than anyone else's. Their twists and turns were graceful and elegant, yet showed stunning athleticism. And when they sliced through the water, they barely left a ripple.
Ren never received a mark lower than 8.5, and her final two dives produced three perfect 10s. Hardly looking her age, she was simply unflappable in her first appearance on the Olympic stage.
"Actually, I was feeling quite calm when I was doing the dives," Ren said. "I wasn't feeling nervous."
Si led the way in both the preliminaries and the semifinals, but she finally wobbled a bit in the fourth round. She was slightly off on her toughest dive — a back 3½ somersaults with a tuck — and wound up with scores ranging from 7.0 to 8.0.
"To be honest, my teammate is a better diver," Si said, according to a translator. "I think that she really deserved the gold."
Ren was nearly perfect when she did the same dive in the third round, receiving a total of 94.5 — her highest single score by any diver in the competition. Si's marks computed to 79.20, which essentially accounted for the margin between the two.
"Actually for the fourth dive, I felt OK," Si said. "I felt that I opened my body at the right moment. But perhaps the control was a little bit over the top."
Ren claimed the sixth gold in seven diving events for the Chinese at these games. If they can win the final event, men's platform, it would match their best Olympic performance ever.
China also won seven of eight events at Beijing in 2008.
For Benfeito, it was the best individual showing of her career. The 27-year-old won bronze in synchronized platform at both London and Rio.
"It does feel a lot different," she said. "To come out with an Olympic medal means even more."
North Korea's Kim Kuk Hyang won gold in this event at last year's world championships, with Ren taking silver and Si only managing a fourth-place showing. With that experience under their belt — and Kim stunningly failing to advance out of the prelims in Rio — the teenagers shined on the even bigger stage at the Maria Lenk Aquatics Center.
"It's a very different sensation," Ren said, looking down at the gold medal around her neck.
Parratto finished second in the semifinals — behind Si and just ahead of Ren — but she couldn't duplicate that performance when it really counted.
"They're amazing divers," Parratto said. "They're pretty much flawless."
The morning semifinals were held in bright sunshine, only to have the skies turn gray and threatening when the divers returned for the afternoon finals.
The forecast for rain didn't pan out, however, so there were no weather-related issues at the first Olympic diving competition held outdoors since 1992.
Si And Ren were already looking ahead to Tokyo Games in 2020.
"I really had high hopes and expectations for the gold medal," she said. "I will see you in four years' time."