Zhou Xin, Editor from Asia, FINA Aquatics World Magazine (CHN)

Tipped a decade ago as successor to the peerless Guo Jingjing, Wang Han has yet to win a major title in her favourite individual 3m springboard event. At 27 the oldest in the Chinese diving team, Wang expects to compete in her first Olympic Games in Tokyo 2020.

Wang made her international debut at the 2009 Rome World Championships, where she collected a bronze medal in the 1m springboard. She has won several gold medals in the synchro 3m and mixed synchro at the Worlds but never in the 3m individual.

“I think of myself as a patient girl”

What is your character? Do you go crazy or get upset in victory or failure?

I think I am a quite gentle and warm person. I never lose my temper or do something crazy. I am easy-going with people. I am talkative and positive. I would like to share common sense with friends and make all of them happy. When I face difficulties and failure I keep going on and fighting and try to make myself a better person. In fact, I think of myself as a patient girl. Hope is always in the near future if I keep working hard, just as the rainbow comes after the storm.

You were tipped as the successor of Guo Jingjing and you have been compared to her all the time. How did you feel? Pressure or encouragement?

Maybe it was because I came from the same city, Baoding, as Guo, my provincial team coach Li Fang also taught Guo and my favourite is the 3m springboard, so I was regarded as a potential successor. In fact, when I started diving, no one talked about it and I was unaware of that. I trained like any other kid for many years. Besides, there were several talents called Little Guo Jingjing in my local team and later in the national team. I did not feel the pressure because Guo is a great diver. She is my idol. I am far from greatness and far behind her. I am on the way to improving myself and still fighting for my dream.

Did you learn from Guo Jingjing when you were in the national team?

To be honest, we did not talk a lot in the team because she was a famous star, while I was just a little rookie. But her hard-working attitude has inspired me to this day. One night before the 2004 Athens Olympic Games, Guo finished training very late while only young divers were left in the pool for basic technique training. I was wondering why she stayed so long. She told me she felt not satisfied with one of her competition dives during the training, so she tried more times to better the dive. “Champion is nothing but labour and diligence,” Guo said. I can still remember her face, her tone and her attitude when she talked to me on the pool deck. I was not surprised that later she completed her dreams in Athens by claiming two gold medals. She has had a great influence on me in my career.

“I kept diving as a happy exercise”

How and when did you start diving?

I was energetic and naughty when I was young, so my parents sent me to the sports kindergarten. There were many cool exercises for us and I was very interested in the gymnastics. We thought gymnastics a fun game and played all the time. It was not real sports training but some basic movement and a good reason for me to have fun. I kept up the happy gymnastics class when I went to primary school. When I was 10, coaches from the provincial diving team picked me from my school because I seemed more powerful, more flexible and found it easier to learn new things. We took 10 days to learn swimming. Then we started to learn basic diving techniques.

When did you officially enter the province diving team?

I kept diving as a happy exercise just like the gymnastics at first. Six or seven months later, my mother and I had a serious talk. She asked me to make a choice whether I would like to dive in the province team or just study like ordinary kids. It was the first time in my life that I had to take a responsible step for the rest of my life. It took me one day to make the final decision. Then I told my parents: “I am certainly not an excellent student, so why not be a diving-major person and try another life.” My parents respected my decision and I entered the province team at the age of 10.

How was your life in the province team? Any different from your previous student life?

The only difference was we trained for most of the time and studied for fewer hours, the opposite of normal students. There was a total of five rookies entering the team and I was not the most talented one. I was just powerful compared with others. It was a very late age to learn diving at 10 as most of the top divers started at the age of five or six. But I think I was born with the spirit of not giving up. I tried hard to follow the coaches’ words and improved myself, though I was still not the best one. However, I was very lucky that I narrowly passed several elimination tests. I enjoyed the competitions and the process of improving. I also enjoyed the environment with my team-mates.

When did you feel the expectations from the others? How did you deal with that?

I did not feel the expectations when I was young, because there were other young talents in the team. I just felt relaxed and focused on my own. I believed all the efforts would pay off. I was very, very excited when Li Fang, who taught Guo Jingjing, later became my province coach. She was famous but strict in the techniques. I felt proud of myself that I was one of her new divers. Only when I entered the national team at the end of 2003 and became a key diver for my province did I start to feel the pressure.

“I began to be more motivated in training”

Who was your coach when you entered the national team? What did you learn from the divers of the highest level?

My first national team coach was Sun Shuwei, men’s 10m platform champion at 1992 Olympic Games. I really appreciated that Sun boosted my confidence and set higher goals in diving. He took me as a potential talent and built a pretty solid foundation for me, though I could not finish a whole competition routine when I entered the national team. I won a synchro gold medal with my partner Jia Dongjin at the 2004 national championships. It was my first national title. I was thrilled that I was no longer ‘nobody’ in diving and I trained very hard in those days. In 2005, I returned to my province team, preparing for the National Games. Then I went back to the national team. But since I was getting older and had switched to another coach, I was rusty during the winter training session with an excuse of minor injury. I was sent back to the province team in the spring of 2006. That blow made me more aware of the high competition within the national team and the fighting spirit of every diver. I would be ruled out of the team any time if I lost myself and relaxed for a while. I changed my event from platform to springboard. I began to be more motivated in training.

When did you go back to the national team?

I got the call from the national team at the end of 2008. I watched the Beijing Olympic Games on TV and admired those champions. This time I went to coach Liu Henglin, who taught Peng Bo (2004 Olympic champion in men's 3m springboard), He Chong (2008 Olympic champion in 3m springboard), Wu Minxia (5-times Olympic champion) and several other big names. He improved my techniques and brought me to a higher level. I took my first medal, a bronze in the 1m springboard, at the 2009 Rome World Championships. He pointed out my technical weakness after each dive and I was able to learn a lot from every training class. He made me understand that I was full of power but weak in detailed techniques since I started diving rather late. He told me I needed to make up the technique disadvantages and needed to be more patient.

You were with Wu Minxia under the same coach – what did you learn from her?

I was impressed by Wu’s fighting spirit. She was not a physically strong diver, had many injuries but her mindset was tough. She could not train a lot but she was able to manage to turn all her weaknesses into advantages. She was even a magician – when she entered the competition mood she was invincible. Everyone has shortcomings but it is a special power to transform the shortcoming into strength. I hope I was able to learn from Wu’s strong mind and be a better diver.

“I am just waiting for my big moment”

Every athlete dreams of competing in the Olympic Games and winning the gold medal. But you failed to make the team for the 2012 and 2016 Olympic Games. What was the reason?

I thought I was not ready technically and psychologically for the 2012 and 2016 Olympic Games. Wu Minxia, He Zi and Shi Tingmao were in their peak form while I was climbing up the higher ladder. Though Shi and He are both my age, they were more skilled in the techniques, stronger in the mind than I was at that time.

Did you feel anxious when He Zi and Shi Tingmao both competed in the Olympic Games and won the titles? How do you define your relationships with them?

We are friends first, then competitors. I don’t think competitors cannot be friends. It is a fact that they are better, stronger in many aspects. I feel lucky I have them as best friends and competitors. We know each other and encourage each other all the time, just like family members. I did not feel anxious. I was happy for their success at the Olympic Games. I think I am a late-maturing person and now I am getting better. I want to keep my own pace. They help give me more understanding and deep thought about myself.

What is the difference between He Zi and Shi Tingmao?

I first started synchro with He Zi in 2011, so we talked a lot and always shared the same hotel rooms when we competed at international meets. He is only 40 days older than me but she is like a big sister by guiding me in diving and in daily life. Though she retired after the 2016 Rio Olympics and now has a baby girl, we still keep in touch frequently. I am grateful that she is my best friend. Meanwhile, Shi and I are the same kind of characters in that we share jokes and girl-talk all the time. Shi makes training and competition easier and happier. Shi entered the national team very late and she is a very motivated person. She is great in controlling the entries while I am weak in that point. I respect her. I am lucky that they are my friends and they are great persons.

Is it a pity for you that you competed in some big events, such as the World Championships and Asian Games, and you won gold medals in the synchro and mixed synchro events but not in the individual?

It shows me that I still need to improve my individual techniques. I have power, enough experience and smooth mindset through all these years. The only thing I need to improve is to better the detailed techniques. That is not too bad, right?! These medals are not the dust and rain but reward for my hard work. I have not had big blows in my career. I am just waiting for my big moment.

As the oldest diver in the team, how do you help younger divers?

Sometimes I share my experience and understanding of diving and competition with them. There is a great tradition in our team that we help each other, no matter whether older or younger.

“I hope I can have one cat and one dog someday”

What is your goal? To compete in the Tokyo Olympic Games?

My goal was to reach 400 points in a competition. I did it once, last September at our National Championships in Chongqing. I finished second with 404.70, my personal best not only for the score but the technical form. I felt happy and excited that I was one step closer to a new level. Shi Tingmao was the champion with 421.20 points, setting a national record as the highest-ever score at the championships. I do not mind whether I was champion or not, I just hope I can perform my best in the international competitions. My next goal is to try to qualify for the Olympic Games in 2020. The most important thing is to finish in the top two in the individual event.

Are there specific Olympic qualification rules since there are many strong divers in China?

There are a series of qualification events starting from now, including competitions within the national team, national championships and World Championships in Gwangju this summer. All our performances at the international and national meets will be taken into consideration. I need to show my best and try to finish in the top two places in the 3m. At the same time, I also need to pay more attention to avoiding injury since there are many young talents in China.

What does diving bring you? If you were given another chance, would you still choose diving?

Yes, I think so. Diving plays an important role in my life. It is my career, my favourite and my love. My parents used to urge me to quit diving. But I did not want to give up. As long as I can dive at a high level, I will strive for my goal to the last minute. I never think about the arrangement after retirement but I really like cats and dogs. I hope I can have one cat and one dog someday because I can’t take care of the pets when I frequently go out for training and competition. I graduated from Shanghai Maritime University in 2013 but I don't think I will do something related to my major in international shipping management. I want to concentrate on my own diving right now.