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Diver Wu Minxia launches sweep for eight gold medals

LONDON -- Wu Minxia launches China's sweep for all eight diving gold medals in London with her bid for a third straight synchronized three-meter springboard Olympic crown on Sunday.

The 26-year-old diva diver can leave the London Games as the most successful Olympian in the sport along with the retired Guo Jingjing if she wins both her springboard events and so adds to her current tally of four medals.

Wu, who will team with He Zi, won the last two synchronized gold medals with Guo in Athens and Beijing and is an overwhelming favorite to successfully lead off China's quest to unite every Olympic and world diving gold medal.

The Chinese are hosing down expectations after their diving “Dream Team” dominated the competition with the benefit of home pool advantage at the 2008 Beijing Olympics and last year's world championships in Shanghai.

China fell agonizingly short in Beijing where only a breathtaking final 10m platform plunge by Australia's Matthew Mitcham stopped the Chinese juggernaut from annexing all eight Olympic categories.

“We cannot overestimate ourselves based on the past achievements, nor neglect the strength and high difficulties of dives of our rivals,” team manager Zhou Jihong warned.

But the sheer weight of past success points to China's “March of the Volunteers” national anthem being a constant musical theme to the diving competition.

Since China returned to the summer games in 1984, their divers have claimed 27 out of 40 gold medals on offer.

World champion Qiu Bo, likened to a “robot” by his British rival Tom Daley, is expected to further enhance his glowing reputation in London.

The 19-year-old Qiu, who won two gold medals at last year's world championships, will partner Lin Yue in the men's 10m synchronized platform and take on the challenges of Daley and Mitcham in the individual platform.

Qiu, the 2011 FINA male diver of the year, says his greatest headache is meeting his own exacting standards, rather than worrying about his rivals.

“The biggest challenge is from myself to beat myself. The aim is to win everything,” Qiu said. “I enjoy the pressure. That is the pressure that moves me to get stronger and stronger.”

British poster boy Daley, who relinquished his world title to Qiu last year, clings to the hope the Chinese superstar will crack under pressure, pointing out that he has beaten him four times in competition.

“Pressure sometimes gets to him. You have to be able to dive as well as him to put pressure on him, because if you don't put pressure on him, he's not going to buckle. So it's tough,” Daley said.

Defending champion Mitcham is thankful Qiu and local hope Daley are scooping up all the attention as he battles back from an abdominal muscle injury which forced him to pull out of last year's world championships.

“I feel quite grateful,” Mitcham said. “Because of all these injuries, a lot of expectation has been lifted off me.

“People underestimate how much it can affect you having the weight of expectation. Some athletes deal with that better than others.”

Defending champion He Hong faces a challenge from Canada's two-time Olympic silver medalist Alexandre Despatie in the springboard event, while Qin Kai and Luo Yutong are the world champions in the synchronized springboard.

Chen Ruolin will defend her Olympic title in the 10m platform, and team up with Wang Hao in a bid to retain platform synchro gold.

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