No 3: Guo Jingjing

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 06 August, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 06 August, 2008, 12:00am

Name: Guo Jingjing

Born: October 15, 1981 in Hebei

Olympic entry: 3m springboard synchronised and individual

Career highlights: Gold in 3m synchronised and individual at Athens 2004; silver in 3m individual and 10m platform synchronised at Sydney 2000

She's a double Olympic champion and hot favourite to do the double again to join Fu Mingxia as one of China's sporting greats, but diving diva Guo Jingjing has had some unflattering attention.

It reached a head at the Water Cube at a test event in February when she was beaten in her favoured 3m individual springboard by synchronised partner Wu Minxia. But defeat to Wu - who is no pushover and will pounce on any slip-up at the real thing - was the least of her worries.

After she restricted herself to grunts and monosyllables at a press conference, Xinhua went on the attack, portraying her as the Britney Spears of the diving world - arrogant, dismissive and nonsensical. It may sound a strange way of treating a star athlete, but dressing-room insiders have long been aware of her frosty nature.

'Guo is a little distant from the others. While it's not rare for other Chinese to joke around with international athletes, she always looks serious,' said Christin Steuer, a German platform specialist. 'That might not be good for her nerves.'

Yu Fen, a retired national team coach and Guo's mentor from the age of 11, tries to make some sense of the controversies surrounding her former charge. 'On the one hand, the fact Guo remains the star attraction puts her under extraordinary media scrutiny. On the other, people think she is a princess - spoiled by pampering coaches and team officials,' said Yu. 'It seems she is a bit disoriented by being sandwiched in between.'

The diving team's success has been a key factor in China's Olympic success. Of the 112 gold medals collected at the past six Games, the divers have contributed 20 - the biggest source of glory.

'I don't feel too much pressure,' Guo said recently. 'I will only have to compete with myself. It's my fourth Olympics, and my only goal is to defend my titles.

'To finish my career at home in 2008 is something very, very significant and emotional.'

But Guo's prominence has been about more than her gold medals. After her springboard double in Athens, she found herself a magnet for prying paparazzi thrilled by her affair with fellow Olympic gold medallist Tian Liang, once the diving team's poster boy.

After that relationship hit the rocks, Guo became involved with Kenneth Fok Kai-kong, the playboy grandson of late Hong Kong tycoon Henry Fok Ying-tung.

This celebrity status has brought Guo a windfall. According to a paper compiled by the Guangzhou-based China Institute for Brand Research last summer, she has been part of endorsement and promotional deals worth 233 million yuan (HK$267 million) since 2004, ranking her fourth behind Liu Xiang, Yao Ming and Tian.

Guo has made it clear she will quit after the Beijing Games, partly due to the media pressure. But will Guo be able to go out with a bang with all the distractions around her?

Yu has no doubts. 'Athletically, Guo is all but a replica of Fu Mingxia,' said Yu, referring to Fu, one of China's most successful athletes with four Olympic golds.

'Like Fu, Guo jumps and dives with clockwork precision and ballet-like elegance. Plus, in today's field in the springboard event, I can't see anyone even close to her in terms of consistency and difficulty. She is a real superstar of her time.'