Zhang Jiaqi: The Making of the 14-Year-Old Diving Champion

June 27, 2018  Editor: Liu Yanmei
Zhang Jiaqi [Xinhua]

 

Young Chinese diver Zhang Jiaqi, 14, clinched the women's single and double 10-meter platform titles at the Wuhan FINA Diving World Cup, which was held in Wuhan, central China's Hubei Province, recently.

This shy young girl was undoubtedly the focus of the entire pool in Wuhan.

In an interview, Zhang told reporters with a slight tone of innocence, "Although I'm very happy to get the gold medals, I still cannot be proud about the results. I shall continue to work harder."

For Zhang, embarking on the road to diving was more of a coincidence.

When Zhang was a child, she was so naughty that she broke the mattress in her home. So her mother sent her to the diving club of the General Administration of Sports to vent her excessive energy by practicing diving.

For Zhang, the diving club was a paradise. She fell in love with the sport immediately.

"No matter whether I was training on land or on water, it was just like playing a game for me. There was no pressure," Zhang said

In 2010, the Beijing team went to select young athletes from Zhang's club. Zhang, who was younger than 7 years old, and other children, were selected for the second-string of the Beijing team to officially start professional diving training.

"When I first started practicing diving, there was no concept of competition. It was not until I entered the Beijing team that I started to train for world competitions and Olympic Games," said Zhang.

The shine of Zhang actually began before the Rio Olympic Games.

At the 2016 National Diving Championships and Rio Olympic trials, Zhang, who was only 12 years old then, competed on behalf of the Beijing team and beat star player Ren Qianto win the women's 10m platform gold medal.

After that, Zhang entered the national team.

As compared with the Beijing team, time spent training in the national team was longer, the requirements for the quality of dives were tougher, the coaches were stricter, and Zhang's performance was accordingly more improved.

At the 2017 National Diving Championships, Zhang defended her women's 10-meter platform title.

At the Tianjin National Games three months later, she swept the single and double gold medals. Then she became the favorite in China's diving team.

In 2018 so far, she has won gold at the Chinese National Games and back-to-back titles at the FINA Diving World Series Beijing and Fuji successively

As of this World Cup, Zhang has maintained all victories this year.

"She has a flexible mind and a high level of understanding. She is also hard-working," said Zhang's head coach, Ren Shaofen, who trained Ren Qian, Chen Ruolin and other Olympic champions.

In the eyes of her teammates, Zhang is a competitive athlete.

Her partner, Zhang Minjie, who was also 14 years old, said, "Although Zhang's performance is not always very stable during our regular training time, she always gets good scores in competitions."

For Zhang, her next goal is the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. But before that, she also has to face a major challenge — physical development.

For female divers, physical development is a hurdle that cannot be bypassed. As their height and weight increases, the effect of entering the water is inevitably affected.

For Zhang, now 14, the next two years is the prime period for her physical development. Whether she can maintain her current state remains to be seen.

"I will try my best to control it [physical development] and practice harder. My biggest dream now is the Olympic gold medal," said Zhang.

There are still two years left for Zhang's preparation for the Tokyo Olympics in 2020.

Her coach Ren Shaofen said, "We all hope she can participate in the Tokyo Olympic Games smoothly. There are still two years. We must do our best to help her, but the final result depends on her."

(Source: Xinhua/Translated and edited by Women of China)

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