Lin Shan, the Youth Olympic champ leading China's next diving generation

A fear of heights may not be an obvious asset for a diver, but the 19-year-old from Guangdong province already has a world title to her name as she bids to make Tokyo 2020.
By ZK Goh

With so many athletes competing at a major international Games, how does one catch the public's eye?

Winning a hat-trick of gold medals is a pretty good way to do so. Just ask Lin Shan, the young Chinese diver who won three titles out of three at the Buenos Aires 2018 Youth Olympic Games two years ago.

Despite admitting that she was afraid of heights, she still came away with the reputation of China's next big diving star.

The wannabe dancer turned diver

Born in Zhongshan in China's southeastern Guangdong province, Lin – now 19 years old – first took up diving when she was in elementary school.

While many of China's top athletes start training from a very young age, the then-seven-year-old actually wanted to learn to dance.

"One day in school an elderly gentleman arrived with a dance teacher to choose children to train," she told the Beijing Daily News in 2018. "I wanted to learn dancing, but my mother ended up sending me to learn diving."

Two years later, she was selected to join the Guangdong provincial team – a rapid rise that saw her leave home to live in the training centre.

"I would see my parents once every half a year and they would use their holidays to come see me train and accompany me," she explained.

"When I was young, I thought it was nice to leave them behind, but now that I'm older with the national team I miss them a lot."

Buenos Aires breakthrough

At the 2018 Youth Olympic Games in Buenos Aires, Lin was the star of the diving pool.

A rare athlete who excels on both the 3m springboard and 10m platform, Lin wowed the Argentinian crowds with her high-difficulty dives.

After winning both individual events, she teamed up with Colombia's 3m springboard champion Daniel Restrepo to win mixed team gold.

As the Beijing Daily News reported: "An Argentinian reporter even asked Beijing Daily News' sports reporter, 'Is she China's most outstanding athlete on the platform?'"

That form continued into 2019 as she partnered Yang Jian to win a World Championship mixed team gold medal – the first for China in that event.

She also won the 10m platform at the FINA Diving Grand Prix stop in Malaysia.

While the Covid-19 pandemic means Lin has not competed internationally in 2020, the diver continues to impress those in the know.

Lin Shan (R) with Yang Jian after winning mixed team diving gold at the Gwangju 2019 World Aquatics Championships 

Chinese athletes have a reputation of being hard workers, and Lin is no different. But, she said, she also finds time to unwind and tries not to be too stiff.

"I like to read and play games," she told Beijing Daily News. Japanese mystery crime fiction author Higashino Keigo is a favourite of hers.

"I'm a fan of Journey Under the Midnight Sun, and Masquerade Hotel. I really like how he tells the stories."

Higashino's stories have an element of mystery, and that's something Lin herself will hope to bring to the pool if selected for Tokyo 2020.