No 37: He Chong

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 17 June, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 17 June, 2008, 12:00am

Name: He Chong

Born: October 6, 1987 in Zhanjiang, Guangdong

Entry for Beijing Games: men's 3-metre springboard synchronised and 3-metre springboard individual

Main rivals: Qin Kai (China), Alexandre Despatie (Canada), Yahel Castillo (Mexico)

When He Chong's migrant-worker parents were offered a primary school tuition waiver by a Guangdong province scout, they didn't hesitate. While some mainland children enter the world of professional sports for perceived health benefits or simple ambition to win, for many it's economics.

For He's parents, the financial strains of raising three children in urban Zhanjiang topped any concern over the wear and tear of diving practice, an endeavour they knew very little about anyway.

In hindsight, it wasn't a reckless decision at all. Now aged 21, He looks set to play a key role in keeping China's diving juggernaut on track at the Beijing Olympics. He may only have one major title under his belt, but he is widely considered the pick of the 3-metre springboard hopefuls.

At the 2005 and 2007 World Championships, teammate Qin Kai and Canadian ace Alexandre Despatie dominated, but at the Diving World Cup in February at the Water Cube in Beijing it was a different story. There, He stole the show, his extra level of difficulty leaving his opponents floundering.

To Canadian diving team director Mitch Geller, He is head and shoulders above the competition - but there are chinks in his armour, too.

'The springboard competition has increasingly become a power game because of the sheer exclusiveness it demands on one's lower limbs to produce a better take-off, the basis of a good, manoeuvre-packed dive,' said Geller.

'He is the most powerful among the event's front runners, hence it's no wonder he often stuns the world with gravity-defying, sometimes mind-boggling moves.' he said, referring to He's signature forward two-and-a-half somersaults with 3 twists pike, a dive He and He alone is capable of.

'If he keeps being what he is through the six rounds in the final, I don't think anybody can beat him,' Geller added. 'Yet consistency seems to be a problem for him. In that sense, Qin and Alexandre possess an edge through their smoother style.'

This inconsistency may be a problem for some, but with his buoyant character - a stark contrast to many reclusive Chinese divers - He appears well prepared to handle the pressure.

'The older Chinese generation was isolated and concentrated totally on the competition. But the new batch of boys come off as more open-minded and talkative, especially He Chong,' said Tobias Schellenberg, 30, a German who was the silver medallist in the men's 3- metre springboard synchronised at the Athens Games.

Arch rival Despatie put it much more simply, declaring during the Water Cube test: 'He Chong is a brother.'