A decade ago, before the Chinese diving team began competing abroad, Xu Yiming, the team's coach, would always take his video camera along on his trips to international meets. He would then return to Beijing with tapes to show his talented but inexperienced athletes.
In 1982 springboarder Tan Liangde, then 16, joined the national team, and he hoarded Xu's tapes of Greg Louganis. "Those films helped greatly because Louganis's technique is so classic," said Tan. "My diving's not nearly as formal. I wanted to learn the right way."
Tan first competed against the master at the FINA World Cup in '83 and was beaten. Tan took the silver medal in springboard at the L.A. Summer Games the following year; Louganis won the gold. They kept squaring off, and Louganis kept winning. As he headed into this Olympic year, Louganis, since 1982, had won 18 straight international springboard competitions. At the Australia Day International in Canberra in January, he made it 19.
The next week, at the Drake Bicentennial International meet in Sydney, Australia, however, Tan scored an astonishing 715.14 points in the three-meter springboard, finally beating the man who had unknowingly been his tutor. And on Sunday, at the McDonald's International meet in Boca Raton, Fla., Tan again scored more than 700—712.29, to be exact—and topped Louganis for the second time in a row in the three-meter.
"Louganis didn't dive his best," Tan said graciously. Then he added, "I have more confidence than before, and Louganis is not unbeatable anymore."
All these things are true. A ganglion cyst in Louganis's left wrist has disrupted his training since last fall, and at the McDonald's he didn't dive as well as he can. But it's also true that Tan and his teammates have added bravado to their talent and are now a fearsome bunch.
It seems strange to call the Chinese diving team fearsome—they're so small, and they smile so easily. But consider how they laid waste the 23-country field at the four-day McDonald's meet. After conceding the non-Olympic one-meter competitions to Louganis and to Megan Neyer of Boca Raton, the Chinese team swept the four events that will be contested in Seoul this fall. They finished first and third in the men's three-meter springboard, first and second in the women's three-meter, first in the men's 10-meter platform, first and third in the women's. But don't let that solitary medal in men's platform fool you. China's top platform diver, two-time World Cup champ Tong Hui, stayed home to nurse a minor injury.
As the women's platform competition began on Saturday, attention was focused on last year's McDonald's champion, Elena Miroshina, 13, of the Soviet Union. The 4'9�", 75-pound Miroshina is a wonder to watch as she tumbles 10 meters through the air and then...well, she doesn't enter the water, she slips beneath its surface. The Soviet girl led by 11.64 points after the fourth round.
But then came 14-year-old Chen Yingjian, all 5 feet, 77 pounds of her. She, too, is whisper-quiet on her entries, and she has iron nerves. "I have no fear," Chen said. When Miroshina blew an inward 3� tuck, Chen seized the lead and never let go.
When the platform medalists met the press, Miroshina and Chen, great pals of a week's standing, shared a single chair and still didn't fill it. These tiny girls have revolutionized their sport, much as small acrobats have changed gymnastics and pairs skating. Wendy Williams, 20, who finished fifth in the platform competition, is a slender 5'7", but as she sat near Miroshina and Chen she looked like Gulliver among the Lilliputians.