"I'm young for American diving, but I get to these meets and I feel old," said Williams, a member of the U.S. national team since 1984. "I hate to see diving going the way of gymnastics, where you peak at 14, and at 15 you're over the hill. I've always believed that with maturity comes grace.
"But the trend is to focus on the entry. It's the last thing the judges see, and they go, 'Wow! I don't believe it!' We call it getting paid. These kids get paid for their entries."
Chen was asked at the press conference if the U.S. women would win a platform medal at Seoul. "It'll be difficult," she said.
Same goes for springboard. China's three-meter marvel, Gao Min, is one of diving's great fist pumpers. "I do get excited," she said. "I don't try to control it. That's just me." And Gao is often excited, because she never misses a dive. In April she became the first woman ever to score 600 in springboard in international competition. "It's like [Roger] Bannister's breaking the four-minute mile," said U.S. Olympic team coach Ron O'Brien. Two weeks ago Gao did it again. Now she has done it three times—her 600.15 points on Sunday were 54.75 ahead of teammate Li Qing.
"I wasn't happy with my entries," said Gao. "Too much splash." Asked if she had new goals, she answered, "Yes, 610." Asked whom she considers her competition, she answered, "I'm now competing with myself." She was smiling when she said all that.
With Louganis forgoing the men's platform because of his injured wrist, Xiong Ni, 14, grabbed the spotlight by displaying the phenomenal somersaulting ability that is the hallmark of his nation's diving and the grit that is new to the Chinese team.
"They've always had that tremendous physical ability, they spin so well," said Louganis. "But they had trouble competing when they first showed up in the early '80s. They used to beat us in practice and then fall apart in the meet. Now they know they belong with the best. Even the young ones have confidence."
As Xiong's performance testified, the Chinese choke is history. Xiong couldn't shake Matt Scoggin of the U.S., but he remained cool. In the last round Scoggin hit a back 3� tuck and was awarded uniform 9's. Xiong needed five 9's to win, and he knew it. "I was 80 percent sure I could do it," he said. He leapt and started spinning, an inward 3� tuck. "When I hit, I knew." He surfaced and gave a fist pump. Win he did, by 7.11 points.
Exciting as the Xiong-Scoggin matchup was, it was outshone by the competition between Louganis and Tan. Off the three-meter springboard, Louganis executed unspectacular compulsories and had to work hard to catch up to Tan. On his seventh dive Louganis nailed a forward 3� pike and drew close. On his eighth, he nailed a back 2� pike and drew one point ahead. Tan answered with an equally pretty 3� pike to regain the lead.
Tan, like Xiong, resolutely refused to blink. Diving last in the final round, he spun through a silken inward 3� tuck that earned him 87.72 points and pushed his total over the 700 mark. He had beaten Louganis by 15.