It was a case of who dares wins in the men’s 3m springboard diving on Tuesday and a cautious Qin Kai was left thunder-struck after Russia’s Ilya Zakharov rolled the dice to snatch gold from the Chinese favorite on his very last dive.
Qin, who opted for safety on his last dive, watched aghast as 21-year-old Zakharov nailed a forward 4.5 somersault dive in a tuck position, one of the tougher dives in competition with a degree of difficulty of 3.8.
The Russian had prefaced that with a forward 2.5 somersault with three twists in the pike position with a degree of difficulty of 3.9 that earned him 99.45 points for his penultimate dive.
“Who would have thought he would dive so well?” Qin, who took bronze in the event in Beijing, asked softly.
The Russian’s high-risk, high-reward strategy denied China their sixth straight gold at the Aquatics Centre and blew the team’s ambitions of sweeping all eight diving titles out of the water.
The 26-year-old Qin was left slumping up against a wall behind the diving platform with a towel over his head.
The five-time world champion smiled weakly at the crowd as he fingered his silver medal, while his teammate He Chong, who won gold in the event in Beijing, grimly stood in the bronze medal spot.
Red-eyed and ashen-faced, Qin was greeted by a pack of Chinese journalists awaiting him when he emerged to answer questions.
“Of course, last time I came third, this time I had the chance and I just feel like I didn’t help China get the gold,” Qin said. “I just feel heartbroken.”
Signs that not everything was ship-shape with Qin emerged in qualifying on Monday when he produced a terrible dive, after stepping off the board wrong, over-rotating and entering the water diagonally. That gave him a score of just 39.90, less than half of what he would normally expect.
There was no repeat in the semi-final earlier on Tuesday, when Qin, who already took a gold in the 3m synchronized gold springboard with Luo Yutong, qualified third for the final.
However, the Chinese diver failed to impress the judges sufficiently with low-risk dives on his first and last shots, and failed to set the pool alight on those in-between in the final.
His teammate He led qualifying into the final, but he was also left to scramble to make up for a slow start after executing a pair of weak dives at the beginning.
“Actually, my level of difficulty was higher than my last Games,” Qin said, defending his choice of dives. “The more difficult it is, the more risky, so ... Anyway, I just didn’t expect he would dive so well.”
Qin said he thought his teammates would take the last couple of golds in the men’s and women’s 10m platform events, but felt far less optimistic about ever having another chance to snatch a maiden Olympic individual title.
“I’ll see. If the country and the team needs me, I could try again,” he said of another tilt at the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Games. “I don’t know if I’ll make it in four years. I don’t really want to talk about that, but I will try my best.”