In the end, it all came down to confidence.
China’s Hu Yadan, the silver medalist at last year’s world championships and, at 16, the youngest athlete in the Olympics diving pool on Thursday, was expected to threaten her older compatriot Chen Ruolin’s grip on the top of the podium.
Two months Hu’s elder, the youngest member of Australia’s Olympics squad, Brittany Broben, had impressed at a diving Grand Prix in May, but was largely an unknown before the Olympics and not seen as likely to win a medal.
However, when it really counted, it was Broben that took the women’s 10m platform silver behind Chen, while Hu could only scrape into ninth.
“I was really nervous on the platform,” said a tearful Hu, surrounded by a scrum of Chinese media. “I’m fine when I’m not competing, but tonight I just couldn’t find the tempo.”
Poised on the 10m-high board, watched by thousands of hushed spectators, the 1.47m Hu cut a tiny and vulnerable-looking figure, looking unhappy and daunted by the occasion.
Those nerves got to her and she over-rotated and splashed into the water on her first two dives, ruining her chances of a medal.
Once she was out of contention, she pulled off a beautiful back three-and-a-half somersault, her hardest dive, but it was too late to save her medal chances.
“I didn’t expect this — I thought I had the chance of a medal. I will work harder on the psychological aspects,” she said, her head bent low.
Broben could not also help but be aware of the occasion as she stood on the platform and stared down at the Olympic rings painted on the bottom of the pool.
To add to the pressure, the silver and bronze medals all came down to the last dive, with about half the field of a dozen clustered within a few points of each other.
“[The last dive] was really scary,” Broben said. “But my coach just said whatever happens, happens — just go out and do it and have fun. I knew it had to be really good to get a medal.”
Broben did not come close to the nearly flawless performance of gold medalist Chen, but rounded off her largely clean and confident series of dives with a twisting back somersault that earned her 81.6 points.
It was Australia’s first women’s individual Olympics diving medal since Chantelle Newbery won gold in Athens.
“I’ve been training so hard these past two years, I knew that I could do it,” a grinning Broben said. “I just went out and gave it my best shot.”
Broben was cheered on at the pool by her family, including her mother, who drives her about 70km a day to Brisbane for training.
“I don’t think she’d mind if I didn’t get a silver medal,” Broben said. “She just wanted me to go out there and give it my all, and have fun and enjoy it, but she always believed in me, that I could do it.”