YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections


Chinese Teens Sang, Li Are in Top Form on Platform


SYDNEY — They went one after the other, the two solemn Chinese divers. They were second and third on the program of 40 for the Olympic women's platform preliminaries today.

Watching Sang Xue and Li Na enter the water so silently, watching them fold in their arms and legs so tightly and become so small and twist so fast that they nearly disappeared into the air, it made watching everything else worthwhile.

Sang, who is 15, and Li who is 16, finished first and second, nearly 40 points clear of the field. Sang had 374.90 points, while Li finished with 366.660.

In third and fourth were two Canadians--25-year-old Anne Montminy, who had 339.93 points and 18-year-old Emilie Heymans who had 338.780. In fifth was U.S. national champion Laura Wilkinson, who finished with 331.200.

Only 18 of today's 40 divers qualified for the semifinals and 21-year-old Sara Reiling, of Roseville, Minn., was 23d after the fourth of five rounds of dives and was in danger of missing the semifinals.

But Reiling took a deep breath and nailed her final dive, a difficult back 1 1/2 back somersault with 3 1/2 twists. Reiling scored 74.88 points after getting only 38.88 and 47.79 on her second and third dives, to move up to 16th place. Reiling's head popped out of the water and she was smiling already, even though 24 divers were still to come.

So good are Sang and Li that they displaced two-time defending Olympic gold medalist Fu Mingxia on the platform. Fu swept the platform and three-meter golds in Atlanta as well as winning gold on the platform in 1992. Fu will dive the three-meter and the synchronized for China in pursuit of a record fifth Olympic gold diving medal but she couldn't beat out this new crop of little girls of the platform.

All five of Sang's preliminary dives had a degree of difficulty of 3.0 or higher. Three of Li's were over 3.0.

Wilkinson had two dives rated 3.0 or higher and Reiling had one. On her third dive, Wilkinson scored mostly 7.5s and 8.0s. The dive was a reverse 2 1/2 somersault with a degree of difficulty of 2.7 and Wilkinson received 68.85 points.

Li, on her third dive, received similar scores but her forward 3 1/2 somersault was rated 3.0 so Li received 71.10 points.

Xue was knocked unconscious when she hit her head on the platform in 1997 while performing a reverse dive. She still professes to being scared while doing reverse dives and had none in her program today. Xue won the platform at the 1999 World Cup in New Zealand, her first major international victory.

Wilkinson is competing with bone chips in her foot, the residue of the break she suffered last spring and which almost cost her this Olympic trip. Wilkinson climbs the platform wearing a kayak boot to protect the injured foot.

The University of Texas graduate was second after the first rounds of dives. She fell to fifth after the second round, drew back to third behind the two Chinese after the third round and was fifth after the fourth.

Wilkinson had a big smile just before each dive. Then she would say to herself "All ready, all ready, go," and then dive.

Her worst score came on her fourth dive, an inward 2 1/2 somersault. The landing was over-rotated, the splash was large, and the score was only 55.44.

The strong performance by the Canadians was a surprise.

Montminy's biggest international win came at the 1995 Pan-Am Games and Heymans' best international result was an eighth-place finish at the 1998 world championships.

Wilkinson was passed by Montminy and Heymans in the fourth round.

Los Angeles Times Articles