RIO DE JANEIRO (Reuters) - Murky green water and unpredictable winds failed to stop China from claiming seven out of eight gold medals in the diving pool, bringing home the country’s best haul in the sport since 2008.
Its divers, alongside rivals from countries including Britain, South Korea and Mexico, thrilled audiences with their daredevil somersaults and circus-style spins, in spite of issues at the venue, including a hydrogen peroxide dump that turned the water a striking green.
The only gold to elude the Chinese team, whose members’ ages spanned 15 years from teenager Ren Qian to veteran Wu Minxia, was the men’s 3 meter synchronized springboard, won by Britain’s Jack Laugher and Chris Mears. The last time China won seven golds was in Beijing.
“With the wind and the rain it felt like English weather out here, so we embraced it and we came out with a medal. We are really happy,” Mears and Laugher said. The latter also won a silver individual medal, becoming Britain’s most successful Olympic diver.
Most divers graciously brushed off the multiple surprises thrown up by their venue, the open-air Maria Lenk Aquatics Centre, which threatened to overshadow their competitions.
A hot sunny day combined with the effect from the hydrogen peroxide dump caused bight green algae to bloom in the water, while strong winds rattled divers and even knocked out Chinese world champion He Chao in the men’s individual 3 meter springboard preliminaries.
“If the (2015) world champion doesn’t get into the semifinal, that says something,” said Ukraine’s Iliya Kvasha after the event, which He’s teammate, Cao Yuan, eventually took gold in.
“I was blown away, literally. I raised my hands and a gust of wind blew me away,” he said.
China’s quest for medals was also helped by some unexpected exits.
Britain’s Thomas Daley, a London Olympics poster boy who won a bronze medal in 2012, failed to qualify for the individual 10 meter platform finals despite topping the qualifiers, after stumbling in a number of his dives.
“I love diving too much to not watch (the final),” he said after his exit from the competition, which China’s Chen Aisen eventually won.
“But it’s going to be really tough to sit there, watching those guys up there, knowing that I really wanted to be up there challenging those Chinese for the gold medal.”
Reporting by Brenda Goh; Editing by Jan Harvey