"It has been hard," one Russian coach said of the late starts. "Inconvenient. You have to change your whole training schedule for this. You have to train for when the competition is, 10 o'clock at night."
Coming into the springboard finals on July 31 already the winner of the platform, Fu faced assorted difficulties. She was fourth in the finals field after morning preliminaries, trailing Vera Ilyina of Russia, 14-year-old Anna Lindberg of Sweden and Olena Zhupyna of the Ukraine. She also was her country's only hope.
In a startling moment in the preliminaries, Fu's teammate Tan Shuping, the three-meter springboard gold medalist two years ago in the world championships in Rome, landed a flat-out belly flop on her third dive. Her scores across the judging board were 0.5, 0.5, 1.0, 0.5, 0.5, 0.5 and 0.5, and they dropped her from third in the standings to 25th. She effectively was eliminated from the finals with that one dive. "I would never have expected something like that," said Melissa Moses, a U.S. diver who finished fourth in the event. "I've never seen her do that in practice, much less in competition."
Fu simply forgot about Tan's disaster and everything else. She forgot about the large American crowd that cheered every American somersault and twist, and hooted everyone who didn't think each U.S. dive was perfect. She forgot about the time. She forgot about the circumstances. By the second of the five dives, she had become the leader. She never faltered, the only diver to receive more than 60 points on each of her dives. Look at me.
"What would you like to do when you are older, say 30?" she was asked afterward.
Thirty? It was clear the question never had arisen. Or at least not seriously. The giggler of Barcelona—she hadn't been able to stop laughing when she listened through ear plugs to the questions translated into Mandarin—now sat at the press conference podium with a certain composure. Well, a certain composure and a stuffed replica of Izzy, the Olympic mascot, in her lap.
"I don't know," the best diver in the world said. "Maybe I'll be a coach? I don't know."
The child of Barcelona will have just turned 22 in Sydney.