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China Finds Some Relief in Victory

Diving: By slim margin on final dive, Xiong wins usually dominant country's first gold of these Games.


SYDNEY, Australia — For his country, Xiong Ni wanted to win. For his diving federation, for his honor and that of other Chinese divers. For all these reasons Xiong Ni wanted to win.

With one dive to go in the men's Olympic springboard final Tuesday, Xiong needed to score 81.30 points to beat the unlikely leader, Fernando Platas of Mexico. The Chinese had been 0 for 3 in gold-medal diving after having won three of the four gold medals in Atlanta. Chinese fans were restless. This failure had not been expected.

Meanwhile, other fans were waving Mexican flags and chanting "Me-hi-co!" while Platas turned away. Xiong couldn't think. He could only take four quick steps and launch. His dive was an inward 3 1/2 somersault done from the tuck position. Xiong twisted, turned, tumbled, ended up entering the water well. There was little splash.

When the scores were put up and the math was done, Xiong had earned 7.5s up to one 9.0. His total for the dive was 81.60 points, for the meet 708.72. By the tiniest of margins, .30 of a point, Xiong had won China's first diving gold medal of these Games.

He became only the second diver in history--Italy's Klaus Dibiasi is the other--to win medals in four consecutive Olympics.

Platas earned the silver with 708.42 points, the first springboard diving medal for Mexico since 1980. It was an emotional conclusion for the 27-year-old business student who had finished eighth at the Atlanta Olympics on the springboard and eighth at the 1998 world championships.

Russia's Dmitri Sautin won the bronze. He had led each round of the six-dive final until he missed his last attempt, a reverse 2 1/2 somersault with 1 1/2 twists.

The degree of difficulty was 3.5, the highest of the competition, and it turned out Sautin didn't need such a hard dive. The 26-year-old who has a bronze medal on the springboard from the 1992 Olympics and a gold on the platform from 1996, missed it badly. He scored 5s and 6s and got out of the water shaking his head.

Troy Dumais, a 20-year-old University of Texas junior from Ventura, finished sixth in his first Olympics, and 21-year-old Mark Ruiz of Orlando, Fla., finished seventh.

Both Dumais and Ruiz had stood as high as fifth in the final round but Dumais had bad entrances and low scores on his third and fourth dives. Ruiz took time to smile and wave to the crowd before his last dive, then bombed, scoring 5s and 6s.

Neither American had been expected to contend for a medal. Ruiz's stronger event is the platform, coming up.

Dumais, however, has been unable to take time off from college to gain international experience.

"This is the most phenomenal experience you could ever have as an athlete," he said. "I had minor flaws in my third and fourth dives but to be a part of this, to have one of the 12 spots in the final, you can't take that away."

Dumais is scheduled to dive in the springboard synchronized competition with David Pichler.

Ruiz said he was waving and smiling because he was having so much fun.

"I had a great time," he said. "I wasn't nervous at all. I was less nervous tonight than I was at the Olympic trials. For some reason, things just didn't click with my dives."

For Xiong, this journey to Sydney had been hard. After winning a platform silver medal in 1988, losing to Greg Louganis by only 1.14 points; a bronze on the platform in 1992, and a gold on the springboard in 1996, Xiong retired and opened a business.

Two years ago, he said, the Chinese diving federation, fearing a weakness on the springboard, asked him to come out of retirement.

"I had to see if I could dig deeper," Xiong said. "I had been far away from diving for a long time ad I was very far away from my form. I put on weight, about [25 pounds], and had no technical skills left to speak of.

"Chinese TV took videotape and when I saw myself on the platform, I had lots of extra pounds in all the wrong places. So now I feel personally elated."

Platas shouted, "Viva Mexico!" as he got up on the medal stand.

"My dream forever has been to be here, fighting for a medal," he said later. "But I didn't know if I could win one."

Sautin had made it a public goal to add a springboard gold to the platform gold he had won in Atlanta.

"I wanted this event to complete the set," he said. "Since I led from the beginning to the final dive, it is very disappointing to lose.

"My last dive is the most difficult in my program, so maybe it was a mistake to include it. I could have carried off an easier dive and I would have won the gold."

Sautin will be in the platform final, but this was Xiong's last competition.

"Since I came out of retirement, I realized my most difficult challenge was to overcome Sautin," he said. "Tonight I realized my dream."



Men's Springboard

Gold: Xiong Ni, China

Silver: Fernando Platas, Mexico

Bronze: Dmitri Sautin, Russia

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