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Page last updated at 17:13 GMT, Monday, 26 July 2010 18:13 UK
Divers Wu Minxia and He Zi aim for Olympic platform


In the pool with Wu Minxia and He Zi

By Michael Bristow
BBC News, Beijing

Chinese divers Wu Minxia and He Zi have spent most of their lives in the pool - they were both just six when they started diving.

They attended special sports schools that aim to turn promising youngsters into the stars of tomorrow.

The scouts who spotted them obviously had a good eye: Ms Wu has already won two Olympic gold medals and Ms He recently won gold at the diving world cup.

The two divers are sometimes rivals but at the London Olympic Games in 2012 they hope to compete together.

Region: China
Born: 1990 & 1985
Discipline: Synchronised diving
Career highlights: Wu Minxia - Two time Olympic gold medallist in women's synchronised 3m springboard.
He Zi - two gold medals, 3m springboard, 2010 season
Recent performance: Gold medals at the World Diving Series, Mexico and 2010 Diving World Cup

They will probably team up for the women's synchronised 3m springboard event - two athletes performing the same dive at the same time.

China's top divers train six days a week at the national sports training centre in Beijing.

Nearly half of their time is spent in the gymnasium, plunging off diving boards into pits filled with foam to break their fall.

There are also trampolines, harnesses and crash mats to allow the divers to practice complex moves in relative safety.

But most of the important action takes place in the pool. For up to four hours a day, Chinese divers climb up - again and again - onto diving boards of various heights and then leap into the water below.

As they dive into the pool, their coaches sit watching. Afterwards they offer words of encouragement or criticism.

Dives are also recorded and instantly replayed on a giant wall-mounted screen to the watching coaches and athletes.

He Zi
He Zi at the 2009 FINA World Championships in Rome

Next to the screen there is a large Chinese flag, just to remind the divers that they are not competing solely for themselves.

This rigorous life is not one that He Zi, now 19, initially craved - she was tricked by her parents, who wanted her to take up the sport.

"They told me diving was fun, but I regretted it as soon as I got to the pool and saw how deep it was," she told the BBC.

"I couldn't swim back then. I hoped that someone would come and rescue me but once I could swim though I started to learn new moves and gradually I began to have a feeling of accomplishment and satisfaction."

All that training and sacrifice is now paying off.

Ms He recently won gold in the individual 3m springboard at the diving World Cup, held in the Chinese city of Changzhou in Jiangsu province in June. She beat Wu Minxia, who came second.

Wu Minxia

With two Olympic gold medals under her belt, Ms Wu is, perhaps understandably, relaxed about competing.

She has the added satisfaction of knowing that she has won so many titles despite a hip joint being slightly out of place.

"In a competition I just complete my moves and don't worry too much about the end result. I'm just happy if I dive well," said the 24-year-old.

"Of course, I always hope I'll get to stand on the medal podium - that makes me even happier."

They might be occasional rivals, but the two women are also friends; they eat and go shopping together. They also both live in dormitories provided by the sports authorities.

In London they are expected to compete together.

"The final decision hasn't been made yet because who knows what could happen in two years," said Liu Hengling, Ms Wu's coach.

But unless another Chinese star of the 3m springboard, Guo Jingjing, decides to compete again, they are almost certain to pair up in London.

Before that though, there is plenty more hours of practice.

World Class

Wu Minxia and He Zi are two of the athletes being tracked for World Class 2012 in partnership with the British Council.

We will be following the progress of a selection of athletes and we would like to hear from you.

What would you like to ask about Wu Minxia and He Zi's build-up to the Olympics? What are their hopes? Do you have any questions about their sport? Send us your questions for Wu Minxia and He Zi using the form below.

A selection of your comments may be published, displaying your name and location unless you state otherwise in the box below.

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see also
Inside China's Olympic 'system'
21 Apr 11 |  World Olympic Dreams
Hat-trick for Chinese divers
15 Apr 11 |  World Olympic Dreams
China rules the world of diving
26 Nov 10 |  World Olympic Dreams
In pictures: Wu Minxia and He Zi
04 Aug 10 |  World Olympic Dreams
Training to be an Olympic diver
26 Jul 10 |  World Olympic Dreams

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