He Chao holds nerve to inherit world 3m diving title from big brother

Kazan 2015 - DV

He Chao succeeded his elder brother He Chong as 3m world champion, withstanding a riproaring challenge from Russia’s Olympic gold medallist Ilya Zakharov to put China back on the winning track in the Kazan diving pool and hoist their title tally to seven out of 10. Zakharov laid down a ferocious attack in the fifth and final round, pulling off a forward 4-1/2 somersaults (109C) which netted an enormous 106.40 points to put all the pressure on He Chao, taking on the same high 3.8 difficulty dive. But 23-year-old He, backed by an 11-point lead, did not buckle, earning 102.60 points himself to inherit the title won three times in succession by his 28-year-old brother He Chong, whom he had ousted from the Chinese line-up in the last national trials.

He Chao amassed 555.05 points from his five dives to consign Zakharov (547.60) to his second silver in Kazan, following the Russian’s third consecutive second place in the 3m synchro with Evgeny Kuznetsov. Jack Laugher of Great Britain, who held the lead after round two, clung on to the bronze, netting 528.90 points to stay ahead of Cao Yuan (523.95), former platform diver who won Olympic gold in the 10m synchro in 2012 and shared world gold in Kazan with Qin Kai in the 3m synchro. It was Laugher’s second medal in Kazan, following his bronze with Chris Mears in the 3m synchro, and capped a great week for Britain, which also featured gold for 2009 platform world champion Tom Daley and Rebecca Gallantree in the new 3m/10m team event. Kuznetsov, like Zakharov and He Chao, also topped the 100-mark with 102.60 for his final 109C but had to settle for fifth after bronze in 2011 and silver in 2013.

In a fluctuating battle, the lead was exchanged from Mexico’s Rommel Pacheco in round one, to Laugher, to Cao, before He Chao took over in the fourth round and extended China’s uninterrupted reign since Qin won in 2007, followed by the golden treble of the new number one’s brother, 2008 Olympic champion He Chong. The last non-Chinese 3m world champion was Canada’s Alexandre Despatie, who won in Montreal in 2005.

He Chao (CHN), the gold medallist in the men's 3m springboard - Photo credit: Giorgio Scala/Deepbluemedia

Zakharov proved China beatable when he won the 2012 Olympic 3m title but he and Kuznetsov have had to settle for silver behind their rivals more often than they would care to remember, both individually – Zakharov at the 2011 Worlds, Kuznetsov in 2013 - and together in the synchronised 3m at the 2012 Olympics and the Worlds of 2011, 2013 and 2015.

Germany’s Patrick Hausding slipped on the board on his first-round back 2-1/2 somersaults and badly injured his left knee, backside and two toes on his left foot. Hausding, European 3m champion in 2014, had to pull out, a painful exit after his golden World Championships in Barcelona in 2013 when he and Sascha Klein won the 10m synchro, the only diving title to escape China. Japan’s Ken Terauchi, world 3m bronze medallist back in 2001, was able to mix it with the best once again in Kazan and finished ninth, a week away from his 35th birthday.

Zakharov (RUS, silver), Chao (CHN, gold), Laugher (GBR, bronze) - Photo credit: Giorgio Scala/Deepbluemedia


He Chao (CHN, gold):
“It was a great and competitive event. It was the best reward for me since I just held off all the pressure and difficulties. My last dive was after Zakharov, who just received a day-high 106.40. I was under great pressure, not only because Zakharov's high points, but also from the local audience when the chief judge asked the full-house crowds to keep quiet for two times. It was a kind of overwhelming atmosphere. Before I stood on the springboard, I had a glimpse to my team manager that gave me confidence and cool mind set. I felt calm and focused on my own combination, nothing else was in my mind. I knew that I had to rely on myself no matter how good the other divers were performing. I had no idea whether I won or not until my scores were shown on the big screen”.
“I was disappointed with my poor performance (7th) in the 1m springboard due to my nerves. I did not answer all the phone calls and messages from my friends and family. I just kept thinking and learning from my failure. That failure motivated me to do better in the 3m”.

“Everyone compares me with my elder brother He Chong. I am used to it. He is always my idol and role model since I started diving. I guess he must be happier than I am when I finally stood on the top of the podium at my first World Championships”.

Ilya Zakharov (RUS, silver): “We had a very powerful final. Very interesting scores, very interesting dives. All together was wonderful, fantastic. I was naturally fighting to get the gold. Any athlete who is participating in such a high-level event thinks that the gold is a possibility, but today it wasn’t my time”.

(about rituals during the race): “I don’t have any kind of ritual. I’m not superstitious. I just try to concentrate; I just try to be in the best possible mental and physical condition”.

Jack Laugher (GBR, bronze):
“I’m very happy with the result. It has been a fantastic World Championships for me. To finish with the bronze medal position behind these fantastic divers is a really privilege and I’m very, very proud. Now I’m thinking to work and, you know, do even better in 2016”.

(about the high diving competition that will start soon):
“In 2013, I watched the high diving in Barcelona World Championships and I had the privilege to put myself near the edge and I was very scared, there is no chance. I never, never, never…”