Russia's llya Zakharov competes in the men's 3m springboard final
Russia's Ilya Zakharov dashed China's hopes of a clean sweep of all eight diving gold medals at the London Olympics with a gripping victory in the men's 3m springboard final on Tuesday.
Zakharov pumped his fist in the air as soon as he resurfaced upon scoring a competition high 104.50 points on his last dive to claim the gold medal from Chinese pair Qin Kai and defending champion He Chong.
The 21-year-old from Leningrad profited from a greater degree of difficulty of dives and kept his nerve to deny Qin the gold with a superlative closing forward four and a half somersault that left Qin shattered and in tears.
Zakharov, who finished runner-up behind He at last year's Shanghai world championships, totalled 555.90 from his six dives to take the gold ahead of Qin (541.75) and He (524.15).
Chinese divers had won all five events leading up to the men's springboard final and were on their way to go one better than their seven out of eight at the Beijing Games four years ago.
But they were denied the perfecta again, this time by Zakharov's series of brilliant dives off the springboard.
It also ended a run of four Chinese victories in the Olympic springboard event going back to Atlanta 1996, while the last Russian to win was Vladimir Vasin with the former Soviet Union at Munich in 1972.
"Having done that I'm delighted. I'm so pleased that I have managed to have taken at least one (gold) medal away from China," Zakharov said.
"My trump card were my last two dives because they were the most difficult and I focused completely on them."
Qin only led Zahharov by 1.25 points into the last dive, and his 89.10 for a reverse two and a half somersault with one and a half twists proved not enough against the resilient Russian.
Zakharov, who took silver in the 3m synchronised springboard with Evgeny Kuznetsov behind China on Wednesday, separated the two Chinese divers as second to He among the top qualifiers after the morning semi-finals.
And he continued his blazing form in the final, handling the pressure of the closing round to give Russia the gold.
"I realised that the Chinese were reachable during my synchronised 3m springboard dive," Zakharov said.
The Chinese pair, particularly He Chong, had looked vulnerable throughout the semi-final and final as Zakharov and Mexican Yahel Castillo maintained the pressure with a string of precision dives until Castillo cracked on his final dive.
Qin looked the better gold medal bet than He, who struggled to reproduce his best form, and had worked his way from fourth after the second round to lead into the sixth round.
Yet he could not close out the victory, leaving Zakharov with the final crack at gold which he took with relish with the highest-scoring dive of the final, with two of seven judges awarding him 10.
"Every athlete faces pressure, but if you want to be really good then you really need to handle that pressure to perform," Qin said.
"I think Ilya did really wonderful today and this is what the Olympics are all about. I want to congratulate him, even though I feel a little sorry, but he did so well today."
Defending champion He said it wasn't the pressure that got to him.
"I actually felt like it wasn't that much pressure, it was just me, the problem was me. I didn't do my best," He said.
"I have to accept the result of the competition. I started from way down and I tried to move up and I got a bronze. I'm still happy, but I'm a little bit disappointed."
Castillo was bidding to become the first Mexican Olympic diving champion since Joaquin Capilla on the platform at the 1956 Melbourne Games, but while leading after the fourth round he faltered with his final dive which netted him 64.75.
German Patrick Hausding finished fourth with 505.55 ahead of American Troy Dumais (498.35) and Castillo (492.70).