China's Guo Jingjing (top) and Wu Minxia dive during the women's three-metre synchronised springboard final at the Good Luck Beijing FINA Diving World Cup being held at the National Aquatics Centre in Beijing February 24, 2008. [Agencies]
China's diving stars will be centre-stage in Beijing after their dominance in previous Olympics.
The Chinese diving team won a record six golds in Athens, notching up more golds than any other China sports teams. This was on top of five gold medals at the 2000 Sydney Olympics.
Their form since Athens has been equally impressive, winning seven out of eight golds at both the 2007 World Championships in Melbourne and the FINA Diving 2008 World Cup in Beijing and wrapping up their season by sweeping all eight golds during the last meet of the FINA Diving Grand Prix in Rome in June.
And as they warm up in Jinan in Shandong Province, the star-studded Olympic squad is unlikely to let up on home soil.
"We have full confidence in the Beijing Olympics," said Zhou Jihong, manager of the Chinese diving team. "Some of our players are quite young, and they may be nervous to compete at home. We must let them be more physically and mentally strong."
"Diving Queen" Guo Jingjing, 27, and her synchronized partner, Wu Minxia, 22, are set to win gold in the women's synchronized three-meter springboard. Guo is hot favorite also for the gold in the individual springboard. "My training has been intensified recently in the last a few day before the Games," said Guo, who will be taking part in her fourth and the last Olympic Games. "If I try my best, I will have no regrets," she adds.
Wu, who won the silver behind Guo in the 3-meter springboard in Athens and in the 2007 Melbourne World Championships, actually beat her synchronized partner in the individual 3m springboard at FINA Diving World Cup earlier this year. Many expect the order to be restored in Beijing, however.
In the men's 3m springboard, Qin Kai, winner at 2007 Melbourne worlds, and He Chong, gold medalist at the 2008 World Cup, will battle it out for the gold medal in the individual event.
Qin will also team up with Wang Feng to dive in the synchronize event, where they are likely to win gold. The world champion pair has been in stunning form all season.
On the 10m platform, the Chinese women's divers also have clear advantages.
Teenager Wang Xin and Chen Ruolin, winner and runner-up, respectively, at the 2007 Melbourne worlds, will fight it out for the gold in the individual event.
They will also team up in the synchronized event, where they are the leading contenders for gold.
The men's 10m platform is the only weak point of the "diving dream team" since the retirement of Sydney Olympic gold medalist Tian Liang.
Hu Jia, the individual gold medalist in Athens who might have put up a strong challenge, has failed to make the squad because of injury.
China lost the gold at this event in the 2007 Melbourne worlds as Russian Gleb Galperin beat China's contenders Zhou Luxin and Lin Yue.
The 10m platform was also the only gold China failed to get at the 2008 World Cup with, this time, Germany's Klein Sascha being crowned.
Zhou and Lin will be competing at their first Olympic Games in Beijing at this event, where the main threat this time may come from Cuba's Jose Guerra, winner of the 2007 Pan American Games.
Qin Kai and Wang Feng (bottom) of China dive on their way to the gold medal during the men's 3 meter synchro final at the World Diving series in Sheffield, northern England May 25, 2008. [Agencies]
Lin will team up with Huo Liang for the synchronized version.
China's toughest opponents at the games are likely to be the Russian team.
It has two legendary divers, 34-year-old "diving czar" Dmitri Sautin and 31-year-old Yulia Pakhalina who will compete in the men's and women's 3m springboard, respectively. Although they are much older than the others, Sautin and Pakhalina are still strong contenders.
Canadian top diver Alexandre Despatie is another tough opponent for the Chinese since he was the runner-up in the men's 3m springboard of the 2007 Melbourne worlds and at the 2004 Athens Olympics.
The Canadian was the first, and so far only, diver to have been World champion in the three categories (1m, 3m springboard and 10m platform). An Olympic gold medal is what he covets the most.
Meanwhile, the Australian squad may make an impact since some veteran divers will be making a comeback.
Mathew Helm, runner-up of the men's 10m platform at the Athens Olympics, Chantelle Newbery, winner of the women's 10-meter platform at the last Olympics, and her husband, Robert Newbery, the last time bronze medalist in the men's 10m platform synchro, will all compete in the Water Cube.
The other stars to watch also include Laura Wilkinson of the US, the 2000 Sydney Games gold medalist and the 2005 world champion of women's 10m platform and Castillo Yahel of Mexico, who is currently ranked number two in the men's 3m springboard.
(实习生屈上 英语点津 Helen 编辑）