14-year-old Hongchan set to be new queen in diving

Young and dangerous: China divers (from left) Zhang Jiaqi, Quan Hongchan and Chen Yuxi will be competing in their first Olympics.

PETALING JAYA: It was in Barcelona in 1992 when platform diver Fu Mingxia stunned the sporting world by becoming the youngest ever Olympics champion for China at the age of 13.

And almost three decades later, China look set to unleash another teen wonder at the Tokyo Olympics in 14-year-old Quan Hongchan from Zhangjiang.

She has been confirmed as the second Chinese diver for the women’s 10m platform individual alongside reigning world champion Chen Yuxi, who herself will only turn 16 after the Olympics.

The Tokyo Games will be Hongchan’s international debut as she has never been seen outside of China so far.

Having turned 14 only in March, she is half the age of Malaysia’s Pandelela Rinong (28), Canada’s Meaghan Benfeito (32) and Australia’s Melissa Wu (29), whom are expected to be the strongest rivals to China in the women’s 10m platform individual event.

The fact that there is no place for the reigning Olympics champion Ren Qian in China’s 10-member strong final squad for Tokyo speaks volumes of the sheer talent on display.

Ren Qian, who became the youngest Olympics champion in Rio de Janeiro when she won the women’s 10m platform individual title at the age of 15, was already in danger of missing out after she lost out to Yuxi and Hongchan in China’s national diving championship held in Shanghai last month.

For the women’s 10m platform synchro, China will put their faith on Yuxi to pair up with Zhang Jiaqi to deliver the gold.

Jiaqi is already a world champion diver herself as she partnered Lu Wei to a comfortable win over Pandelela-Leong Mun Yee in the women’s 10m platform synchro event at the 2019 World Aquatics Championships in Gwangju, South Korea.

Former Malaysian head coach Yang Zhuliang, who follows closely the Chinese national diving scene, said it would be a very interesting battle in the women’s 10m platform individual competition.

“There is a new girl from China whom the world has not seen yet. She is very, very stable and has not lost back home, that’s why they are giving her the Olympics spot,” he said.

“She was picked after winning three competitions in China. And at the national championships which served as the Olympics trial, she won with over 440 points.

“It is always very hard to beat the China women divers unless they make a mistake. But we fight like always,” commented Zhuliang, who is now preparing 2017 world champion platform diver Cheong Jun Hoong for the Tokyo mission.

It is also worth noting that Hongchan would not have had the chance to make her Olympics appearance if the Tokyo Games had not been postponed by one year because of the Covid-19 pandemic.

It was after Fu Mingxia’s win in Barcelona that the governing body of the sport later ruled that divers must be at least 14 to compete in future Olympics.

Except for Hongchan, the other nine members in China’s team are either already Olympics or world champions.

This includes Shi Tingmao and Wang Han, who are expected to turn the women’s 3m springboard competition into a private battle.

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