SPORTS EXPLAINERS: DIVING
Check Ladbroke's odds on the Chinese going one-two in the four individual events.
Tom Daley, Great Britain: Like politics, all sport -- even something as massive as the Olympics -- is local. If the focal point in Sydney was Cathy Freeman's stirring 400 meters and the fulcrum of Beijing was hurdler Liu Xiang's distressing injury, London will be about an 18-year-old British platform specialist who will bring a nation to a standstill Aug. 11. Daley, who reached the Beijing final as a 14-year-old and won the world championship in 2009, was criticized by his own federation earlier this year because of a casual work ethic and glut of endorsements, but he had a strong World Cup season, winning the overall 10-meter title and the synchro crown with Pete Waterfield.
German Sanchez and Ivan Garcia, Mexico: The Mexican 10-meter synchro duo is the showstopper. X sports, meet Pierre de Coubertin. While a typical Olympic dive ranges between a 3.4 and 3.7 degrees of difficulty, Sanchez and Garcia have mastered the diving equivalent of figure skating's quad, a 4.5 inward somersault in the tuck position. The dive carries the maximum degree of difficulty, 4.1.
Matt Mitcham, Australia: The Aussie trailed Zhou Lüxin by a healthy 34 points heading into the final dive in Beijing, but after Lüxin's mediocre dive, Mitcham nailed a twisting back two-and-a-half somersault. His record score of 112.10, which included four 10s, secured him the gold by almost five points. The 24-year-old Mitcham, who came out of retirement 15 months ago, had been battling an abdominal tear and two stress fractures in his back. He said earlier this year he finally is pain-free. Maybe. We do know, however, he is impervious to pressure. If he could stare down a Chinese diver in Beijing, why can't he take on Daley in London?
Chen Ruolin, China: Wu Minxia is the undisputed empress of the springboard, but the 4-foot-8 Chen is the platform goddess -- maybe the brightest Chinese star in a constellation of them. Chen won the individual and synchro 10-meter golds in Beijing and duplicated the feat at the 2011 world championships in Shanghai. She has been dominant since arriving on the world scene as a 13-year-old in 2006.
Tania Cagnotto, Italy: In her last shot at an Olympic medal, the 27-year-old grand dame of European diving is coming off a springboard bronze at the London test event. She is the only Italian female to ever have won a medal at a diving world championship, having captured the three-meter silver at Rome in 2009 and four bronze medals. Cagnotto's father, Giorgio, won two Olympic silvers and two bronze medals between Munich '72 and Moscow '80.
Since Laura Wilkinson's platform gold in Sydney, Americans have not managed an Olympic medal. David Boudia, a platform silver medalist at the 2011 worlds, could break that slump although he faces probably the deepest field of any event. Troy Dumais, a springboard fixture, joins Greg Louganis as the only American male to ever make four Olympic diving teams.
A familiar name on the women's team is platform diver Brittany Viola, although that name probably is better known to baseball fans; her father is Frank Viola, the 1988 American League Cy Young Award winner. Viola, 25, is a first-time Olympian after failing to make the team for Athens and Beijing.
The concluding event, the men's platform, should be the most innately dramatic as Daley, Mitcham, Boudia and Germany's Sascha Klein, among others, try to topple favored Qiu Bo of China. Bo knows diving. In the 2011 FINA Diving World Series, he received 25 perfect 10s. He won two golds at the 2011 worlds and was named male diver of the year. The 19-year-old Bo, who won the test event in London, told reporters, "The biggest challenge is from myself to beat myself." The men's 10-meter encapsulates all the matchups of the competition: China vs. Itself.
Alexandre Despatie. Maybe the 27-year Canadian, who first burst into prominence 14 years ago when he won a gold medal at the Commonwealth Games, is not your garden-variety underdog, but the three-time world champion enters London as a sentimental favorite. This guy is a country-and-western song. Four months prior to Beijing, he broke his foot, but he managed to finish second in springboard, his second Olympic silver. Last month, Despatie suffered a training accident, hitting the board on an inward three-and-a-half. He needed minor surgery to reattach some of his scalp -- he had a four-inch gash -- and also sustained a concussion. Despatie still is optimistic about making the podium.
Plunge for distance -- how far a diver could propel himself without imparting propulsion from arms or legs after hitting the water -- was an Olympic event in 1904, bowing out after its only appearance in this quadrennial symposium of sweat. (Hint: the competition favored the stout.) William Dickey of the U.S. won the gold medal with a distance of 62' 6". Apparently some Olympic records are not meant to be broken.
July 29: Women's three-meter synchro
July 30: Men's 10-meter synchro
July 31: Women's 10-meter synchro
Aug. 1: Men's three-meter synchro
Aug. 5: Women's three-meter
Aug. 7: Men's three-meter
Aug. 9: Women's 10-meter
Aug. 11: Men's 10-meter