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BEIJING 2008 : WOMEN'S DIVING

China retains winning edge

August 22, 2008|Kevin Baxter | Times Staff Writer

BEIJING -- China's Chen Ruolin remembers two things about the Athens Olympics: watching them on TV and seeing her country win a lot of medals.

Canadian diver Emilie Heymans' memories of Athens involve medals and TV as well, although hers aren't quite as pleasant: On her final dive of the competition, with a spot on the podium all but assured, Heymans fell apart, blowing a medal, then crawling into a room used by NBC, where she sobbed uncontrollably.

Heymans experienced heartache again Thursday while Chen and her countrymen found only joy, with the 15-year-old Chinese sprite nailing a sensational final dive to steal the gold from the Canadian and keep alive China's hopes for a golden sweep in diving.

China's Wang Xin, who teamed with Chen for synchronized gold last week, won the bronze medal. Laura Wilkinson of Spring, Texas, the only American in the final, was ninth.

With only Saturday's men's platform remaining, China has yet to lose in diving, winning seven golds and 10 medals overall. Every Chinese diver who has competed here has won at least one medal, and in the last three Olympics, China has won 18 of 23 events.

The only event China hasn't won at least once in the last two Games is the one Chen trailed after four dives. And she took that thought with her as she climbed to the top of the platform for her final try.

"I got a little nervous before the last dive," Chen said.

Heymans put her on the spot with a sensational dive on her fourth attempt, getting a 95.20, the best mark of the competition to that point. And she was only slightly poorer on her final dive, getting an 88.

But Heymans knew better than to think the competition was over.

"I knew that I was on the podium. But I know that [the Chinese] are really good divers and that they were able to do even better than what I did," she said. "They've always been awesome divers."

In Athens, Heymans missed a bronze by seven points when she stumbled on her final two attempts. Dealing with the aftermath, she said, has made her "the person I am today."

And changing coaches, leaving Michel Larouche to train with Yi Hua Li, has made her the diver she was Thursday.

"I just grew a lot since Athens and there's a lot of things that changed," Heymans said.

As a result, Chen needed to be nearly flawless on her final dive -- a back 2 1/2 somersault with 1 1/2 twists, and a degree of difficulty of 3.4, her toughest dive of the night -- to keep China's winning streak alive. Four of the seven judges gave her perfect 10s, good enough for the gold.

Heymans, who insisted she wasn't even aware she was in the lead when Chen took the platform, hid her face behind a purple towel when her rival's mark -- 100.30 -- was posted on the scoreboard. And when she climbed the medal platform a few minutes later, she was crying again.

These tears, she promised, were different than the ones in Athens.

"They were definitely tears of joy," said Heymans, who, after winning synchronized diving medals in both Athens and Sydney, has now medaled in three consecutive Olympics.

"I was hoping for the gold, but I was happy with my dives. I had five really good dives. I'm really happy with the silver."

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kevin.baxter@latimes.com

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DIVING

Women's 10-Meter Platform

*--* Medal winners G: Chen Ruolin (China) Score: 447.70 S: Emilie Heymans (Canada) Score: 437.05 B: Wang Xin (China) Score: 429.90 *--*

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