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.
EXPERIENCE FROM CHINA
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.