By Sportswriter Tan Jingjing
BEIJING, July 10 (Xinhua) -- The "Dream Team" of Chinese divers are playing down their chances of sweeping all eight events in the 2012 Olympic Games as team manager Zhou Jihong warns against "unprecedented difficulty" in London.
Following a record of seven out of eight golds at Beijing Olympics, the formidable Chinese team carried on their dominance with seven golds at the 2009 Rome Worlds, seven golds at the 2010 World Cup, a clean sweep of 10 at the 2011 Shanghai Worlds and all eight at the 2012 World Cup earlier this year.
But Zhou warned that other teams were closing fast on China, whose women divers especially have long enjoyed a stranglehold on the sport's various disciplines.
Neither the world championships nor the World Cup could be compared with the Olympic Games in terms of intensity, not to mention the FINA World Series. Besides, China had home advantage at the Shanghai worlds. And for the World Cup, the Chinese divers escaped challenges from strong competitors as some of them were on vacation. Thus the results of the world championships or World Cup do not truly reflect the real prowess of various teams.
"We cannot overestimate ourselves based on the past achievements, nor neglect the strength and high difficulties of dives of our rivals," Zhou said.
"The London Olympics will be the toughest one for us as we face the biggest injuries problems in the London Olympic cycle. We had more competitions and less time for systematic training, which interrupted the recovery from injuries for our divers," said Zhou, who won the country's first diving gold in the women's 10m platform in the 1984 Los Angeles Games.
The Chinese divers never dream of sweeping all of the gold medals in London, Zhou told Xinhua. "Our rivals are improving fast, especially in the men's events," she said.
With divers from countries such as Russia, Germany, Mexico and Austria improving rapidly in terms of difficulty and quality of moves, China has no more absolute advantage in either degree of difficulty or consistency of execution.
Compared with Beijing Games where Chinese divers competed on home soil and were cheered on by huge home fans, the team has to adapt to brand-new environment, face increasing charges from new competitors, and in particular, get well prepared for a good mindset and stable psychological condition.
Four years ago in Beijing, China suffered from a last-dive turnaround in the men's 10m platform, falling short of a clean sweep of eight golds.
The 2012 Chinese squad features a bevy of former world and Olympic champions.
World champion Qiu Bo will line up with teammate Lin Yue in the men's 10m platform to run for a long-awaited gold. British teenager Thomas Daley, who won the 10m platform in Rome, and defending Olympic champion Matthew Mitcham from Australia, will spearhead charges against China in the men's platform. Silver and bronze medalists of the 2011 Shanghai championships - U.S. diver David Boudia and Germany's Sascha Klein - are also strong contenders in this event.
In the men's springboard, defending champion He Hong may face pressure from competitors led by two-time Olympic silver medalist Alexandre Despatie. Russian duo Dvgeny Kuznetsov and Illya Zakharov, who stunned spectators at the Shanghai worlds last year with their difficult yet impeccable last dive 109C, will challenge China's world champion Qin Kai and Luo Yutong in the men's synchronized springboard event.
On the women's side, Wu Minxia, hailed as the "diving queen" following the retirement of legendary Guo Jingjing, will be attempting to win her third Olympic title in the 3m synchro -- but her first with new partner He Zi. She is also an overwhelming favorite in the 3m individual springboard.
Olympic champion Chen Ruolin will defend her title in the 10m platform, and team up with Wang Hao to retain the platform synchro gold. Mexico's world champion Paola Espinosa is among the hot contenders in this event.
Chinese divers have claimed 33 Olympic titles out of 48 in the last 28 years.
The diving events of London Olympics are slated for July 29 to August 11, with over 130 divers worldwide competing for eight gold medals.