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Hardship and hunger: it’s been a tough journey to the top for China’s diving golden girl Chen Ruolin

PUBLISHED : Friday, 12 August, 2016, 6:31am
UPDATED : Friday, 12 August, 2016, 8:37am

Diving queen Chen Ruolin’s journey to the top of the Olympic podium for a record fifth time has been one of hardship — and hunger.

For five long years, when the now 23-year-old heartthrob was growing up, she would eat only one meal a day to control her weight so she could nail the perfect dive.

Her discipline and desire was so strong that whenever she received a birthday cake she would watch her friends eat while she took photos.

WATCH: golden moments on Day 5 at the Rio Olympics

We don’t think about gold because gold is for China
Italian diver Tania Cagnotto

Not only that, she has suffered so many injuries she still has bandages and plasters all over her body.

“In the past four years there have been some injuries and also I had some prolonged recoveries. When you're injured you cannot participate in your normal training and your training will fall behind schedule. And that is a huge challenge,” she said after winning gold in the women’s synchronised 10-metre platform diving competition on the fourth day of the Rio Games.

It was her fifth Olympic gold medal, bringing her level with compatriot Wu Mingxia who also collected her fifth diving gold this week, the pair each breaking the record held by four-time Olympic gold-medallist Guo Jingjing.

China has long dominated the sport and this Olympics has been no different.

Chen and 18-year-old dive partner Liu Huixia took home gold in the women’s synchronised 10m platform – winning by a wide margin over silver-medallists Malaysia.

Wu and her team-mate, 24-year-old Shi Tingmao, won gold in women’s synchronised 3m springboard even easier. With a score of 345.5, the petite Chinese pair left silver-medallists Italy (313.83) far behind.

WATCH: Wu and Shi win the women’s synchronised 3m springboard gold

Italian diver Tania Cagnotto said after losing to Wu and Shi that she had never expected to win gold.

“We don’t think about gold because gold is for China. We were fighting for a medal … we couldn’t be happier than this [winning silver],” she said.

But behind the scenes are tales of sweat, injury and hunger for China’s high-achievers.

The road to the top was at times so tough that Chen thought about quitting during recent training sessions as she stared down from on high.

“When I was up there on the diving platform, I was too afraid to dive down there. I feared that I could get hurt … I was very afraid,” she said. “I asked myself, I have already won four gold medals. What does it mean to get just one more? There was a moment I didn’t want to continue with the training anymore.”

But Chen found the courage to carry on and win that fifth gold, though now, at the tender age of 23, she is thinking about retirement.

“The past four years have not been easy. Because of the injuries and sickness, I have felt like I couldn’t do this anymore. This synchronised diving [contest] is the most stressful and fearful one I have ever had over the years,” Chen told reporters after winning gold in Rio.

“This could be [my last Olympics]. And that’s why I wanted to complete it with perfection.”