World Series serves as showcase for next generation of champions
Zhang Jiaqi of China consults with her coach on her way to winning the women's 10m platform at the FINA Diving World Series at the Water Cube in Beijing, March 11, 2018. (PHOTO / XINHUA)
China's diving chief has admitted that the sport urgently needs another superstar in order to boost its popularity.
The nation has been a dominant force in diving for decades, producing high-profile stars such as Guo Jingjing, Wu Minxia and Tian Liang.
However, after those Olympic and world champions retired, Chinese diving has been bereft of big-name crowd-pullers.
A sparsely attended first leg of the FINA Diving World Series at the Water Cube in Beijing over the weekend was testament to the waning interest levels, even though Chinese divers pocketed all 10 gold medals.
"We need to produce superstars in this sport but it's not easy," said Zhou Jihong, president of the Chinese Swimming Association and manager of Team China.
China has been a dominant force in diving for decades, producing high-profile stars such as Guo Jingjing, Wu Minxia and Tian Liang
"Firstly, players must have the best performance in the world.
"Secondly, they need a chance and an environment in which they can become topical and attract the spotlight.
"I hope we will have superstars very quickly and help popularize the sport.
"We have very good divers in this generation and I hope the media and fans will support and follow them and encourage the public to love them."
Yang Jian and Olympic champion Chen Aisen won gold and silver in the men's 10-meter platform at the World Series, but Zhou said there is room for improvement.
"This was a test of our winter training, and the overall result turned out to be good," said Zhou.
"But in some events, like the men's 10m platform, our divers were not good enough.
"Chen Aisen has had arm injuries, and that affected his performance. Yang Jian was in better condition throughout winter training, but he still made some mistakes and could not stabilize the quality of his body movements. That was not normal for him."
Chen, who won gold at the 2016 Rio Olympics, was disappointed with his effort on Sunday. He scored 529.05 points, 10.5 points behind Yang.
"I have not been in good form recently, so the result today was not that bad for me," said Chen.
"I have to work hard in training and try to go back to my best level."
Apart from established divers like Wang Han, Yang Jian and Shi Tingmao, many youngsters made stellar debuts for China, including 14-year-old twins Zhang Jiaqi and Zhang Minjie, who won the 10m women's synchronized event.
Zhang Jiaqi claimed her second title of the meet in the 10m platform with 439.10 points to edge Rio Olympic gold medalist Ren Qian, who scored 432.30.
"That was the highest score of my career in this event, and I was trying to focus on each dive during the competition. I didn't think too much about the points," said Zhang, who shot to attention as a 13-year-old by winning both the single and synchronized 10m crowns at last year's Chinese National Games.
The World Series marked her first international meet.
"Of course, I'm very happy now, but I should stay humble. There is still a long way to go for me," Zhang said.
Zhou was keen to put Zhang's victories into context, given the absence of some of the foreign competitors.
"We have many problems to solve in the future. In this World Series, it was clear that some foreign divers were not at their best and many did not participate.
"This is only the first stop of the World Series this year, and we will face much tougher tests in future competitions. The condition of foreign divers will improve."