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NEWS FEATURE Chinese divers blocked by Britain in quest for elusive golden sweep By Alexandra Mayer-Hohdahl, dpa

Europe
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They have dominated Olympic diving for years, but the Chinese had hoped to hit a new high in Rio with a gold medal sweep. Britain crushed that dream on Wednesday.

Rio de Janeiro (dpa) - In the three decades since they started making their mark on the Olympics, Chinese divers have accumulated a treasure chest of gold medals. But one feat remains elusive: finishing first in every single diving event at the Games.

China had been gunning for the golden sweep in Rio de Janeiro, but hit a wall Wednesday, when Britain‘s Jack Laugher and Chris Mears walked away with the top prize in the men‘s 3-metre springboard synchronized event.

China‘s Qin Kai and Cao Yuan were left with bronze, also overtaken by the United States‘ Sam Dorman and Mike Hixon, who took silver.

China had previously won the paired competition three times since it was introduced at the 2000 Sydney Olympics, and Qin could have become the first diver to earn three gold medals in the event had he won.

"I don‘t feel satisfied with the result today as we have put a lot of years of effort into this," he said after the competition.

Before Wednesday, the Chinese divers had seemed headed for a third consecutive sweep of the Olympic synchronized diving events, after winning gold in the first three competitions.

"It‘s almost like running with the bulls. We don‘t even think about the gold, because we know the gold is for China," Italian diver Tania Cagnotto had said on Sunday, after winning silver in the women‘s 3m springboard synchronized competition.

Qin and Cao started strongly during their first two rounds of diving, but then fell back and recovered only briefly in the fifth round before ending with a score of just 83.22 points for their last dive.

"We didn‘t perform as well as we wished we could," Cao said. "But the outcome is here and we have to face it and start training again."

The setback may deal a blow to China, but does not seriously affect its record as a dominant force in diving.

Before the Rio Games, it had won 24 of the 32 Olympic gold medals available in diving this century. The United States holds the highest number of overall diving gold medals at 48.

When asked what makes China so strong, British bronze medallist Thomas Daley said on Monday that "1.3 billion [people] as a population helps."

"But they work so hard," he added, praising their strength and technical proficiency. "It‘s amazing to watch the Chinese, not only in competition, but training as well, and how consistently amazing they are."

However, Daley also had a warning for his Chinese rivals: "Going into an individual competition, ... they are beatable."

That is where China‘s weak point has been in the most recent Olympics, notably among its male divers.

In London four years ago, the Chinese missed out on two of the eight gold medals available, managing only silver in the men‘s individual 10m platform and 3m springboard events.

On home soil in 2008, the divers let only one gold medal slip through their fingers in Beijing, in the men‘s 10m platform competition.

In Rio, they will have the chance to prove themselves from Sunday, when the first of four medals in the individual events will be awarded.

"Our predecessors have made tremendous achievements, so this encourages us to put more effort into our training," said Wu Minxia, who on Sunday in the 3m springboard synchronized competition became the first woman to win four Olympic diving gold medals.

"Our team is really united," she added. "We share common dreams and goals, and that spirit really unites us to continue to be the best in the world."

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