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"Liang Jingjing": Returning from Vanity Fair
Updated: 2004-12-15 09:36

Olympic champions Tian Liang and Guo Jingjing, winning three gold medals between them in Athens in August, returned to the diving pool after three months of red- carpet celebrations and numerous commercial promotions.

Tian Liang (L) and Guo Jingjing (R) pose for photograph after Chinese divers won three awards of best men's team, best women's team and best team on Feb. 22, 2004, at the 14th World Cup Championships in Athens, Greece. [Xinhua]

The pair returned knowing how much celebrity appeal they have and a much more colorful world outside of the diving pool.

"After the Olympics, I will definitely leave the pool for some time," said Tian before Athens. "No one can imagine what pressure I have been bearing these many years, so I want to look for some fun after the Games," said the three-time Olympian.

"Then I will see whether I still want to be back," he said.

Tian has always been the diving fans' sweetheart with his heart- throbbing smile and six-pack abs compounded with a gold medal on the men's platform in the Sydney Olympics four years ago.

The 25-year-old grabbed the doubles' title on the platform in Athens. Losing the defending campaign on the singles glory to teammate Hu Jia did not dent his popularity a little bit.

Guo, 24, finally saw her Olympic dreams come true by taking both singles and doubles titles in the 3m springboard, redeeming her loss in the previous two editions of the Games.

"I am determined to carry on until the Beijing Olympics," said Guo. "The future is unpredictable to me. I just want to do my 100 percent."

But at least one thing they could foresee + fame and endorsements immediately flooding in. Good-looks and the rumor of romance between them, though it can never be officially confirmed, have only enhanced their appeal.

Tian has been a pitchman for Amway and Bausch & Lomb since his victory in Sydney while Guo, with her porcelain-doll features, won ad and sponsorship deals with fast food chain McDonald's and Budweeiser after she bagged two silver four years ago.

The pair also did a TV commercial for a leading Chinese beverage company then as they swigged an energy drink together. Since then, the pair have always been mentioned combined with a Chinese phrase in coincidence with their names "Liang Jingjing", meaning "shining".

They always deny their relationship but never conceal the closeness between them.

An obviously depressed Guo tidied up Tian's sports wear after Tian only finished third on the platform in Athens and other teammates understandably left the two alone.

"We are the closest in age and have been training together for over 10 years in the national team. No wonder we are so close, but she is not my girlfriend," Tian would say so to every one curious about their relationship.

"He is not my boyfriend. We grew up together as good friends, that's all," Guo would say.

The Chinese diving team maintains a "don't ask, don't tell" policy on romance but media and businessmen would rather label them as a pair of lovers as they were invited together to numerous celebrations.

The pair also looked happy posing side by side in each commercial promotion before clustered away by bodyguards, reporters as well as curious fans. They hit headlines of the sports pages of newspapers, every little detail of their goings-on recorded by persevering press gangs, especially in Hong Kong SAR.

When all the Chinese Olympic champions made their glorious visit to Hong Kong, Tian and Guo became an instant phenomenon in the special administrative region.

The Nanjing Morning News reported that Tian was in talks with the Hong Kong music giant Emperor Entertainment Group as the diving prince looked ready to dive headfirst into a singing career.

Meanwhile Guo, pitching for cosmetic brand Red Earth there, seemed to develop a new romance with someone from a Hong Kong business tycoon family.

When the Chinese diving team called up their divers to the winter training camp to resume training after two months of rest in November, Guo and Tian were the big names missing on the roster.

Words spread that they had been demoted to their local teams, Tian back to Shaanxi and Guo, Hebei, for their indulgence in commercial activities. And team leader Zhou Jihong suggested they give more consideration to their future in this sport.

"They failed to appear in the national team as previously asked, " said the Los Angeles Olympic platform champion.

"Whether they will come back depends on their attitude toward their work. I think they will return if they still love diving ," she added.

They do love diving.

The pair showed up simultaneously in their respective local training sites in Shaanxi and Hebei on December 1, a month later than their national teammates did.

"Social activities made me more tired than training and I am fed up with those made-up stories," said Guo, simple as she was.

"All I do now is to find my form again and I believe I will be in good state soon," she said.

"I love the feeling standing on the springboard. I will do everything to keep diving," she said.

Tian, more than 1,000 kilometers away, echoed Guo's view.

"I asked for a half-year leave but I find that I miss diving so much merely three months away from the diving pool," he said.

"I thought I needed a rather long time to rest after 18 years of diving but it turned out that the other way," he added.

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