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Olympic Poseur: Diving

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China dominates another sport we know nothing about

Diving - Olympics: Day 3
It’s cool, but sort of creepy.
Photo by Quinn Rooney/Getty Images

One man’s quest to immerse himself in the Olympic spirit. Today’s sport: Archery

Sometimes, you just get lucky. I map out my schedule for the Olympics in advance, so we don’t get caught with duplicate sports thanks to quirks of schedules. So I didn’t know in advance that diving would be on the prime time show. I didn’t know the US would have its best finish ever in synchronized diving. And I sure as hell didn’t know about Steele Johnson.

First off, that’s not a porn name. That’s the name of the lead character of an 80s action TV show. Every time Steele leaps off the board, the whole platform should explode. Steele Johnson is, perhaps, the greatest name in the history of the Olympics, and we here at Poseur HQ still treasure our time with Ding Ning (who, incidentally, is back to defend her 2012 silver medal in table tennis).

Synchronized diving is one of the artistic sports they added to the program in 2000 and I have to say, it was a remarkably good call. Diving is pretty intimidating in its own right, especially the platform dive, but watching two people plunge to certain death in perfect synchronicity adds a certain joie de vive to the whole thing. Every so often, you atch an Olympic sport and think, “I could do that.” Synchronized diving is one of those sports in which you never, ever have that feeling.

Of course, where there is a minor sport that the Americans aren’t good at, you will find the Chinese. You have to respect the planning which has gone into making China a world athletic power. They essentially sat down with the Olympic brochure and picked out everything the US stinks at, and decided to invest there. It has allowed them to compete on the overall medal table while not having to compete that often on the same stage.

And now, when the US does get pretty good at the sport, China is now the established dominant power. China has won the last three gold medals in this event, and in 2000, the first year of synchronized diving, they managed a silver to Russia’s gold.

Let’s be perfectly frank, the Chinese team of Aisen Chen and Yue Lin are awesome. I’m surprised they don’t get out of the pool and wash off in perfect synchronicity as well. I even like how they do a bow from the steps of the pool before stepping out. It’s like these guys are playing an entirely different sport than the others.

The first two rounds of dives, everyone does the same “simple” dive. And by simple, I mean they do a few twists that you will never be able to do, so don’t even think about it. You can see how much better they are in the more vanilla dives. Every move is perfect, there is hardly any splash, and they seem almost like mirror images of each other. Everyone else looks great, the Chinese look positively immortal.

After three rounds, we reached the halfway point and the pecking order had been clearly established. Unless they fell off the board or something, the Chinese and the US were going to win gold and silver, respectively, and then there was a mass of nations who could conceivably win bronze. So even if the top of the podium was a near foregone conclusion, there was still a spirited competition to look forward to in the last half.

The German team can roaring from back of the pack on the fourth dive to threaten for the bronze, scoring a 92.88 which, to that point, was the highest scoring dive of the day (scoring goes up as we go on, as the scores are multiplied by degree of difficulty and the dives get progressively harder). The Germans even topped the Chinese team.

The favored Brits responded to this challenge by scoring a 92.13 on their fifth dive, while the Germans scored a much more reasonable 86.40. Order had been restored by the time the Chinese slammed down a 106.56.

My boy Steele got a little wobbly here, as the US team turned in some good dives, but nothing spectacular. They saved their great dive for the final round, securing the silver medal with a 95.04 dive and a comfortable 10 point margin over third.

They were 40 points behind the Chinese. Again, different sport.

The Germans kept the pressure on in their final dive with an 86.40, but the British held off the challenge with an 89.64. And no, I could not reasonably tell you why one dive was three points better than the other. But I did enjoy it, and the tension was palpable. The Brits won the bronze, and I’ll certainly be tuning in for more synchronized diving.

Team Sports

Field Hockey. The US women’s field hockey team has pulled off consecutive upsets of Argentina and Australia. This puts them in a tie at the top of the table with Great Britain and in excellent position to advance. Now, beating the #1 and #3 teams in the world sounds great, and it is, but here’s the problem for the US team: four teams advance from each group, so really, all the US is doing is giving themselves better seeding to avoid facing the Netherlands from the opposite pool. You want to be as far away from the Dutch as possible, as they are the third major power in the sport. We’ll see how the brackets shake out, but the US would love to see the quarterfinal draw in which all three of the highest ranked teams are on the other side. Australia is in danger of not making the knockout stages right now, but don’t believe it. They will likely rally and if things work perfectly, will finish fourth and the group and force an early match against the Dutch in the quarters.

Basketball. Seriously, why? Olympic basketball feels like the sporting equivalent of the Criterion Collection putting out a Michael Bay movie. They know it doesn’t belong in the canon, but it will also sell more copies than anything else, allowing them to put out a reissue of The Battle of Algiers or something. Basketball is there for an excuse to have global NBA superstars come to Brazil, sell tickets, and put on exhibition. And heck, the men aren’t as dominant as the women.

Olympic basketball is fundamentally uninteresting because it is non-competitive. There rest of the world doesn’t care nearly as much as we think they do, they just like seeing NBA stars. And while the other medals could be hotly contested, the US teams are playing glorified scrimmages. The men have slept-walked through 57 and 44 point wins. The women won by 65 and 40. Spain lost by 40 and is a medal favorite. Forty. I can watch NBA players whenever the heck I want, I see no reason to waste much of the crowded Olympic schedule on it. The US is going to win. By a lot. It won’t be fun. Watch for the other medals, like Croatia and Spain playing a 72-70 nail-biter. But this tournament is a foregone conclusion.

Swimming/Track

Bad blood and controversy is so much fun. This was almost like a Cold War Olympics! We even got to hate on the Russian. Yulia Efimova has failed two drug tests, was embroiled in the Russian doping scandal, and still got a reprieve to compete in Rio. Lilly King may no secret of her contempt, and wrote a lot of verbal checks. Last night, she cashed them. King backed up every one of her words, and took home the gold. It was glorious smack talk and genuine hatred. She’s not play-acting.

Whispers of drug cheating have dogged swimming for years, and the whispers are turning into shouts here at the Games. Efimova has failed tests, but Sun Yang has also raised some eyebrows. French swimmer Camille LaCourt told a French radio station that Yang “pisses purple.” Yang previously served a three-month ban in 2014 that the Chinese federation kept a secret during the time.

At least those two have flunked tests. Katinka Hosszu has yet to fail a test, but her late career resurgence is definitely ticking people off. She won the 100m backstroke over American Kathleen Baker while the NBC cameras focused on her muscular husband. People, NBC isn’t being sexist, they are subtly accusing her of being a drug cheat. They are being xenophobic towards the Eastern European. Totally different.

Aside from drug scandals past and future, we got to enjoy some mind games in the semifinals of races that will run tonight. Chad Le Clos of South Africa shadow boxed in front of Michael Phelps, who started his own meme in showing his displeasure. The funny thing is, for all of the staring down and preening between the two, Hungarian Tamas Kendersi won the heat. Fellow Hungarian Laszlo Cech won the other, setting up a glorious 200m fly final tonight.

And even that will have less star power than the women’s 200m free. Sarah Sjostrom, who already has a 100m fly gold, won her heat against Katie Ledecky. Federica Pellegrini finished third, in what was preview of what could be the best race in any sport of the entire Olympics. Sjostrom is an elite sprinter, Ledecky is the best distance swimmer on earth. The 200m free favors Ledecky, but this is a big time match-up between two of the biggest stars of the Olympics on near equal footing.

Tomorrow: Equestrian and Gymnastics. Not at the same time.