The near-perfection of Chinese diver Quan Hongchan’s performance on Thursday night had commentators in disbelief.
“Remember this! You may never see anything like it again,” an NBC broadcaster exclaimed. He was right about the memorable dives—Quan scored two perfect 10s, making her the new Olympic record holder in the women’s 10-meter platform.
But it may be too early to say the ace performance won’t be repeated, not least by Quan herself, who at 14 is the youngest Olympian on China’s team this year.
Quan is the only one among the group of Chinese divers who hasn’t been a world champion. The native of the southeastern province of Guangdong grew up on a farm and started diving seven years ago. She was only able to compete in the Tokyo Games because it was postponed to 2021—the minimum age requirement for Olympic diving is 14.
According to Chinese outlet Living, Quan was first recruited by a diving trainer from a sports school in Zhanjiang, a city in Guangdong, at the age of seven. Among her four siblings, her younger sister and brother also joined her—they come from a poor family and Chinese sports schools cost less in attendance fees than a normal school.
Her mother used to cook at a factory before breaking her ribs in a car accident in 2017. The family had to spend all their savings to treat her, which Quan has been helping pay for. After Thursday’s event, Quan said, “I want to make enough money to support her,” the Associated Press reported.
Since joining the provincial team in 2018, Quan has only been able to visit home twice a year, spending a majority of her time at her sports boarding school. She’s never been to amusement parks or zoos, but the 14-year-old hopes to one day play on claw machines.
To achieve perfection, daily training for the world record holder includes about 120 dives into the water.
All that diligent jumping has paid off. Two of her five dives earned perfect 10 scores by all seven judges. Another one of her dives had six 10s and one 9.5, which was effectively perfect because the two highest and two lowest scores are not counted in the final score.
Quan is now the second-youngest Olympic gold medalist in diving for China. The youngest ever is Fu Mingxia, who at age 13 won a gold medal in Quan’s same discipline at the 1992 Barcelona Games.
After her stunning performance, a cosmetic company said it would fund her mom’s treatment, and an amusement park said it would offer the entire diving team free year passes.
Acknowledging her win, Quan thanked her parents for “encouraging me to relax and telling me to just go for my dives freely because it doesn‘t matter whether I get a medal or not,” she was quoted as saying by the South China Morning Post.
To celebrate her gold, Quan said she’ll be eating latiao, a spicy Chinese snack made of wheat flour.