sharing the Olympic spirit
OLYMPICS/ Athletes

Philippine diver tries to make a splash at Olympics


LOS BANOS, the Philippines -- With 7,000  islands spreading over the West Pacific, the Philippines might  boast of the best diving sites in the world. But when it comes to  the sport of diving at Olympics, it is quite a different story.    

In the past one hundred years since diving was first introduced in the 1904 St. Louis Games, only two Filipino divers made it to  the Olympic springboards. And both were fast eliminated in the  preliminary rounds.    However, the Philippines says it is ready to stage a decent  comeback this August in Beijing.    

One of the two Olympic qualifying divers and the most hopeful  is the 22-year-old Sheila Mae Perez, a shanty-born girl who was  trained into a five-time gold medalist in the recent three  Southeast Asian Games.     In this summer, she will step on the 3-meter springboard in  Beijing to plunge for the Filipino pride at Olympics, the second  time for Perez.    

"I was too young and too unprepared eight years ago in Sydney,  but now, I am different." A confident-sounding Perez told Xinhua  in an interview. "Others might say you can't get it, but yes, I am aiming a medal and I see chances."    

In a country where more than two-third of population are only  glued to television when basketball games and professional boxing  are on show, diving remains unpopular and barely known.     But officials with the Philippine Amateur Swimming Association  said Perez is joining boxer Harry Tanamor to become the country's  "best bets" in Beijing.    


Perez said she did not know there was a sport called diving  when she went to a diving talent recruitment totally out of  curiosity some 12 years ago. And then, she met Coach Zhang, who  trained Perez for more than a decade and improved her skills  dramatically.    

"Sheila might not have the perfect body shape for diving, but  she is clever and understands the coach's instructions well. And  that is a very important trait of a good athlete," said 58-year- old Zhang Dehu, who came to the Philippines in 1997 after quitting his coaching job at China diving team.    

Zhang, who trained China's first Olympic gold medal diver Gao  Min in 1980s, described the diving sport in the Philippines in  1997 as "primitive" and athletes, who received zero systematic  trainings, only dived for fun.    But Zhang said he was rather grateful that the sports officials and the sponsors are serious and very responsive to his and the  divers' ideas and demands.  

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