The denunciations of the conditions that produced Wu Minxia, as rare and accomplished a genius as has ever sprung from a diving board, have been legion.
But Wu has a message for anyone who finds it outrageous that she’s been sheltered from her family and driven hard since early childhood to perfect her skills.
“First of all, I haven’t died, you know,” she said through an interpreter after winning her second gold medal of the London Games and scoring the competition’s first perfect mark on her final dive. “I think everyone has a dream and I choose to dive and I want to make some difference.”
Asked about recent news reports to the effect that her family concealed news of her grandparents’ death and her mother’s battle with cancer, and that their contact with her has been severely limited, Wu replied that her situation is not unique.
“Well, separated from family, I think it’s not only Chinese athletes,” she said, later adding, “(The diving team) are just like a big family … maybe there’s some distance between your real family, however, I think the distance does not stop us feeling they are beside us.”
Love it or hate it, the Chinese system is indisputably effective.
Wu, 26, now has six Olympic medals – four of them gold – and has matched the woman she called her “big sister,” former synchronized swimming partner Guo Jingjing. The two are the most decorated women divers of all time.
In Sunday’s individual three-metre springboard, the gold and silver medalists were both Chinese, and they won by a hefty margin.
Canada’s Jennifer Abel, a 20-year-old from Laval, Que., who was tipped as a medal possibility going into the Games, said after her sixth-place showing that “I look to those girls” for inspiration and even technical advice.
“I get along pretty well with (silver medalist) He Zi, she’s closest to my age,” said Abel, who said she picked up valuable big-meet experience at her second Games and first-ever individual final.
For Canadian Emilie Heymans, there is little in the way of melancholy at seeing her diving career come to a close.
“I think I might just be ready to move on,” she said. “To have been among the world’s best for a lot of years, not too many have been able to do that.”
Though she’s been to three previous Olympics, this will be the first time she’s marched in a closing ceremony.
Maybe that’s when it’ll hit her that it’s over. Either way she is at peace with her accomplishments, which are considerable: she is a multiple world champion and the only woman to win diving medals at four straight Olympics.
“I’m thrilled with the way my career has gone,” said Heymans, a St. Lambert, Que., native. “There’s no point in putting the focus on this last competition.”