How it started
The sport of diving made its debut at St. Louis 1904 and for the next 80 years, the USA dominated the medal table. But in 1984, the People’s Republic of China joined the competition - and everything changed.
Since their first gold medallist ZHOU Jihong took the crown in the women’s 10m platform at Los Angeles 1984, China have won 40 gold medals out of a possible 56, taking home the most amount of diving gold medals at every single Olympic Games.
Simply put, China have the best diving team in the world. They have also contributed the most medals for China out of any Olympic sport. No wonder they are called the “Dream Team” in their home country.
The key players
It takes about 1.8 seconds from the moment you jump from a diving board to the time you land in the pool. Many Chinese divers have spent decades polishing their craft in order to achieve a flawless 1.8 seconds.
Zhou - the first Chinese diver to be officially inducted into the International Swimming Hall of Fame - spent almost her entire life perfecting her diving skills. At Los Angeles 1984, Zhou took gold from her teammate CHEN Xiaoxia, who began the competition as the strong favourite. In 1990, she returned to the national team as a coach and in 1998 she took on the role of leader of China’s national diving team.
Since Zhou took the reins, the team have won 31 gold medals.
From Zhou to FU Mingxia, from GUO Jingjing to WU Minxia, China’s female diving stars have monopolised the sport for so long that no other team has come close to them. In China, they are called “the Diving Queens”.
Fu was among the first to earn that title. On her international debut at Barcelona 1992, the then 14-year-old won gold in the women’s 10m platform to become one of the youngest champions in Olympic history. Over the next three Olympics, she won three more golds and a silver to become the most decorated Chinese Olympic diver, until she passed the crown onto her partner in the 3m springboard - Guo.
Guo competed in four consecutive Olympic Games, bringing home four gold medals, in the 3m springboard and the synchronised event at Athens 2004 and Beijing 2008. Guo captivated China, not only because of her dominance in the pool, but also her elegance and glamour outside of the diving hall.
Guo’s 3m springboard partner, Wu, was said to be in living in her shadow for many years. But at Rio 2016, Wu rewrote the diving record books by winning a fourth consecutive gold in the women’s synchronised 3m springboard. With seven medals, she became the most decorated diver in the history of the sport and is also the only diver to have won four golds in a single event.
The ultimate goal: a clean sweep
Since the inclusion of synchronised variants of the traditional individual event at Sydney 2000, China’s goal has been a clean sweep of all eight gold medals on offer.
They began strongly, with five gold medals in Sydney. Four years later in Athens, the team went one better with six golds. In 2008, at their home Olympics in Beijing, China lost just one gold medal - in the 10m platform event. At London 2012, the Chinese team lost both of the men’s individual events, leaving the Olympics with six gold medals.
The closest the team came to achieving their ultimate goal was at Rio 2016, when the women’s diving team won all four golds. But the men’s team of CAO Yuan and QIN Kai lost out to Great Britain’s Jack Laugher and Chris Mears in the synchronised 3m springboard event, scuppering their chance of a clean sweep.
What happened next?
The Chinese diving team’s battle for supremacy continues at pace.
With Tokyo on the horizon, their aim isn’t only to top the medal table, but to win every medal available. Between Rio and Tokyo, Chinese teams have competed in two World Championships, a World Cup and an Asian Games. China won all the gold medals on offer at the World Cup and Asian Games, while at the 2019 World Aquatics Championships in Gwangju, the team won 12 titles including all eight Olympic events.
Due to COVID-19 and the subsequent postponement of the Games, the Chinese Swimming Association decided to wipe out the points divers had accumulated in the past and start over with the qualification process. The final list of divers is still pending, with the final tryout taking place in May.
In December 2020 and January 2021, the first two tryouts saw young divers surprise viewers, while veterans showed their experience. China’s biggest worry seems to be the fact they have too many great divers to choose from.
But whoever represents the team in Tokyo, they are sure to impress the world with their attempts at perfection. It seems China’s Dream Team is determined to never let down their fans across the world.