Courtesy: LEN Media
Two extraordinary competitions thrilled the crowd on the fourth day at the European Diving Championships in Kyiv. In the women’s 3m final 3.70 points separated the three medalists while the margin was 4.74 in the men’s 10m synchro. Russia’s Kristina Ilinykh missed the 3m title and the Olympic qualification by 1.25 points, while Inge Jansen, celebrating a second-ever Dutch gold in this event, had already secured her berth in Tokyo at the Worlds. The Russians got better news earlier when Aleksandr Belevtsev and Nikita Shleikher won the 10m synchro in a fierce battle.
Medalists, Day 4
Women’s 3m springboard: 1. Inge Jansen (NED) 293.85, 2. Kristina Ilinykh (RUS) 292.60, 3. Tina Punzel (GER) 290.15
The second Olympic qualifying event of the meet, the women’s 3m offered everything diving is loved for. The lead was changing constantly, almost all finalists had ups and downs so not until the very last dive the outcome had been decided.
For a while Ukraine’s Olena Fedorova seemed to be on track to gain the Olympic berth, she performed three fine dives, led after two rounds and was second with two more to go. But then the morning shadows started chasing her again – she qualified in the last, 12th spot – and a badly missed jump took her out of the contest.
Inge Jansen topped the ranks after three rounds, had a session-high 67.50 in Round 2, but the Dutch couldn’t make her fourth cleanly so the gap was reduced to 7-9 points before the final round. Kristina Ilinykh in the meantime climbed higher and higher after her weaker opening just like 2013 champion Tina Punzel, who had to bounce back after her 3rd round horrors but got 67.50 to her fourth and that propelled her to the second position.
The pressure was on Ilinykh, however, since among the top three only she was shy of the Olympic berth. Jansen and Punzel had the very same dive in the fifth, and got the very same score, 63.00, so the Dutch kept the 3.70 points gap between them. (Punzel earned her third medal here after gold in the team event and silver in the mixed 3m.)
Ilinykh, topping the prelims, was the last to dive and faced a big challenge: needed 70.25 points to win the competition, so had to come up with the best attempt of the whole evening. Well, she was up to the task, performed a great forward 2.5 somersaults with a twist, got 7.0-8.0s, still, missed the gold by 1.25 points as the dive was worth ‘only’ 69.00 points – the best of the evening but not enough to send her to Tokyo. (According to the current reading of the rules, double qualification by the same athlete didn’t give any of the two spots to the next highest ranked diver – Jansen got a berth at the Worlds by making the finals and as a winner here also earned the Olympic place. The LEN TDC is to turn to FINA for further clarification, since in other disciplines – like in water polo – the rules share the spots in similar scenarios.)
The first part of the afternoon session already thrilled the fans who had arrived with high expectations to watch the nation’s new star Oleksii Sereda in action. The 13-year old stunned the diving community by flawless performances at the World Championships three weeks ago (finished 4th both in the 10m synchro and in the individual final in Gwangju).
The first two rounds warmed up the complex for the climax of the 10m synchro event as the high DD-dives were yet to commence. And the following two rounds divided the field, after R4 it was clearly a three-horse race with the Russians, the Ukrainians and the British.
Aleksandr Belevtsev and Nikita Shleikher were on fire, in the first four rounds all their marks were in the range of 8.0-9.0s. The middle two jumps were both 80+ pointers, so they built a massive 20-point lead ahead of Matthew Dixon and Noah Williams, plus the local favorites Oleksii Sereda and Oleh Serbin. Just to demonstrate how close it was: after four rounds only 0.18 point separated the latter two.
Soon came the first dramatic scenes as the Russians made their first mistake, Shleikher got only a couple of 5.5s for his dive and the synchro marks also fell below 7.0. Since they jumped first, their rivals could see that the door got wide open – though it was also clear that the Ukrainians needed to be at their best as their DDs were significantly lower in the last two rounds: 3.0 and 3.2, while the Russians had a 3.4 (which they just messed up a bit) and 3.6 for finish, while the Brits had a 3.2 and a 3.7 to perform. The hosts’ fifth dive was a great one and Dixon&Co. also came up big so the gap was reduced to 6 and 8 points before the last round.
Finally – as it happens frequently – the DDs decided the outcome. The Russians bounced back a bit, their last dive wasn’t the very best (mostly 7.5s) but good enough to receive 83.16. As for the hosts, Sereda was brilliant again (he got all 9.0s for his last two dives), Serbin made the last an outstanding one too, so it was all 9.0s and even a 9.5 flashed on the board but the lower difficulty limited their progress. They cashed in 86.40 points – the highest of the competition though not enough to pass the Russians.
For the Brits, with their 4 and a half summersaults (DD3.7, the highest in this event), it was an all-in situation as a great dive would have won them the title. Well, they fell just a bit short, it was a fair but not great attempt which left them in the bronze medal position, just 0.60 points behind the Ukrainians and 4.74 behind the Russians which showed how close the entire race was.
Inge Jansen, Netherlands, gold, 3m springboard
“Obviously, I’m very-very happy because I won and especially because two years ago I came fourth here. I really wanted to show that I could do better by producing my best. I tried to enjoy all my dives and I just did that! I didn’t expect that it was going to be enough to finish first so I’m absolutely happy now.
Between my dives I was listening to music and tried to focus on my next one. I just tried to approach this final step by step, so I tried to do five separate dives.”
Kristina Ilinykh, Russia, silver, 3m springboard
“To be honest, I’m a little but upset. I think I could have done better. I missed a couple of my dives which I usually perform better, that’s why I cannot be happy with this silver medal.”
Tina Punzel, Germany, bronze, 3m springboard
It’s a laughing and a crying eye. I have rarely seen such a crazy competition, I guess. No one could do five good dives. That’s why it annoys me even the more, that despite I’ve also made a big mistake, I still got so close to gold. On the other hand, I enjoyed the competition, the last two jumps were very good. It was a good lesson, I got some more experience and now try to enjoy this bronze. I already have a complete set of medals again and I have more chances too.”
Aleksandr Belevtsev, Russia, gold, 10m synchro
“We were training a lot to get this medal and I’m very happy that we achieved it. The practice is the major factor in our win but the sports diet and our weight are also key elements for our win.”
Oleksii Sereda, Ukraine, silver, 10m synchro:
“I’m happy that we got the silver medal. To be honest, I’m a bit tired after the World Championships. I did everything I could so I’m satisfied with this result.”
Matthew Dixon, Great Britain, bronze, 10m synchro:
“We didn’t expect that medal because everything can happen on the given day. We just tried to do our best dives and see what happens. That was a really good competition we got personal bests, we got the bronze medal and we are really happy with it.”