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Yang Wei
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Who is China’s greatest Olympian?

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China largely didn’t compete at the Olympics before 1980, but it didn’t take long to become a medal power. The Chinese finished second to the U.S. in total medals at the last three Summer Games and had the most golds in Beijing in 2008. China has been consistent at recent Winter Games, earning an average of 10 medals over the last two decades and building enough of a reputation to earn hosting rights in 2022. Here are five of the nation’s greatest Olympians …

Fu Mingxia
Diving
Four Olympic gold medals

A world champion at age 12. An Olympic champion at age 13. Fu was the dominant female diver of the 1990s, sweeping the springboard and platform at the 1996 Atlanta Games and winning one more of each between 1992 and 2000. China has become the dominant diving nation, though still with half the total Olympic medals of the U.S. in the sport. The Chinese boast other legends, such as Guo Jingjing, Chen Ruolin and Xiong Ni, but none combined the versatility and length of dominance quite like Fu. She retired for the first time at age 18, believing she was too old for the sport, and again after her last Olympics at 22.

Lin Dan
Badminton
Two Olympic gold medals

China owns twice as many medals as any other nation in badminton, which debuted at the 1992 Barcelona Games. Ten badminton players share the record of two gold medals. Nine of them are Chinese. Two of them earned two individual golds — Lin and Zhang Ning. The tiebreaker goes to Lin for his five individual world titles to Zhang’s one. “Super Dan,” who competed at the last four Olympics, won the sport’s Super Grand Slam, capturing its nine major titles. Lin’s fame: In 2015, he was the second athlete on Forbes China‘s most popular celebrities list behind tennis player Li Na. He had his own wax figure at Madame Tussauds in Shanghai. Lin’s outbursts on and off the court led to some calling him the John McEnroe of badminton.

Wang Meng
Short Track Speed Skating
Four Olympic gold medals

Also known for volatility. Wang is the lone Winter Olympian on this list and owns the national records for Winter Games medals (six) and golds (four). Wang competed in all four short track events at both the 2006 and 2010 Olympics, won half of them and earned medals in five of the six individual events. She would have been favored for more gold in 2014 but fractured an ankle three weeks before the Winter Games and never competed at another major championships. Wang was known for her unbeatable sprint speed and off-ice incidents. She was once suspended 13 months after reportedly, drunkenly punching a team manager who had chided her for breaking curfew.

Deng Yaping
Table Tennis
Four Olympic gold medals

Nowhere is China’s all-time Olympic dominance more evident than table tennis. Chinese won 28 of 32 gold medals and nearly three times as many total medals as any other nation. Deng, 4 feet, 11 inches, 115 pounds and dubbed “The Ping Pong Queen,” swept singles and doubles gold medals in 1992 and 1996. She was ranked No. 1 in the world from 1990-97 after initially being left off the national team for being so short.

Yang Wei
Gymnastics
Three Olympic gold medals

China has plenty of gymnastics greats, including Li Ning and Li Xiaoshuang, but Yang is the only one to earn Olympic all-around and team golds. He was the nation’s best gymnast at three Olympics — 2000, 2004 and 2008 — and, at his last Olympics in Beijing, dominated the all-around to win by 2.6 points. It remains a modern-era record for an Olympic men’s or women’s all-around margin of victory.

NBC Olympic Research contributed to this report.

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What the U.S. Olympic diving team could look like in 2021

David Boudia
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The last full week of April was supposed to provide clarity for the Olympic diving competition. The FINA World Cup, the last Olympic qualifier, was scheduled to take place at the Olympic host city of Tokyo.

Instead, we’re left with unfinished business. The last Olympic quota spots have yet to be doled out. The U.S. Olympic Trials, originally set for June in Indianapolis, are postponed indefinitely. China’s bid to sweep all of the Olympic diving golds for the first time — denied until 2021.

“This year delay could look a lot better for a lot of the challengers than possibly some of the reigning Chinese,” NBC Olympics analyst Cynthia Potter said. “I just wonder about the veterans from China. [Some of them] have injuries, too. Some of them are worn out.

“I think there are a lot of those people returning [from China] that were maybe looking forward either to not diving the event that they were diving at the Olympics after this summer or retiring altogether.”

Now they all get an extra 12 months. For U.S. divers, it could be a boon once they are able to return to normal training.

It’s more time for David Boudia, the four-time Olympic medalist, to hone his transition from the platform to the springboard. More time for Steele Johnson, who missed nearly a year of competition with two foot surgeries, to decide whether to compete on the platform, springboard or both. More time for synchronized teams to get in sync.

Potter went through where things stand for U.S. Olympic spots in each of the four disciplines:

Men’s Springboard — U.S. qualified two Olympic spots
Boudia won the 2019 U.S. title and placed fifth at the world championships in his first full year after moving off the platform. It was the best finish for the U.S. men’s program at worlds.

“If David’s timing, his strength, his rhythm, all that and that he feels pretty good enough to do these more difficult dives, I don’t see that anybody can beat him if that all comes together,” Potter said.

Michael Hixon is the most experienced U.S. springboard diver on the top level, having placed 10th at the Rio Olympics while making the last three world championships teams. Right in the mix with Boudia and Hixon is Andrew Copabianco, a 20-year-old NCAA champion from Indiana who trains with Hixon. Wild cards: Briadam Herrera, a 1m springboard world team member known for his difficulty, and Johnson, should he enter.

Men’s Platform — U.S. qualified two Olympic spots
David Dinsmore appears the likeliest U.S. Olympic rookie in 2021. Since taking third at the 2016 Olympic Trials, Dinsmore has four wins and a runner-up in national-level meets. His sixth-place finish at the 2017 Worlds was the best individual result for a U.S. man at the meet.

I think international judges like his diving,” Potter said. “He doesn’t have a lot of real obvious flaws.”

Johnson, a Rio Olympian on the platform, returned from injury to place third and fourth at national championships last year. He has the versatility to enter all four events at trials, but he may prioritize the springboard given the medal potential in the synchro event with Boudia. Other hopefuls: Brandon Loschiavo, who outscored Dinsmore in the finals at 2019 Nationals, and Jordan Windle, who Potter said has been on fire since overcoming an injury.

Women’s Springboard — U.S. yet to qualify any Olympic spots
If the U.S. qualifies Olympic spots, look out for Kassidy Cook. Cook, after missing the Rio Olympic final by one spot, did not compete individually on the national level until last December’s Winter Nationals. She won it to earn a spot on the team for the World Cup, where she was to crucially compete to earn the U.S. an Olympic quota spot.

Potter also likes Cook’s synchro partner, Sarah Bacon, who last year became the first U.S. woman to earn an individual Olympic or world medal since 2005. Bacon, overcoming two shoulder surgeries, a concussion,  stress fractures in her back and mental struggles, took silver in the non-Olympic 1m springboard event at worlds.

Also worth noting: Brooke Schultz, who made the last two world championships teams and was third at 2019 Winter Nationals. And Krysta Palmer, a 27-year-old who didn’t start diving until she was 20.

Women’s Platform — U.S qualified two Olympic spots
Potter said the event is deeper domestically than it has been in a long time. All three Rio Olympians — Jessica ParrattoKatrina Young and Amy Cozad Magaña (synchro with Parratto in Rio)– are still competing.

The frontrunner has to be Delaney Schnell, who last year became the first U.S. woman to earn an individual world platform medal since 2005 (a bronze). There’s also Tarrin Gilliland, coming back from injury after competing in synchro at the 2017 World Championships at age 14. And Murphy Bromberg, the 2019 Winter Nationals champion who was third at the most recent Olympic and world championships trials.

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David Boudia, at home instead of in Tokyo, uses Olympic delay to master new event

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Olympic diving champion David Boudia was supposed to be in Tokyo right now. Instead, he’s home in Indiana chasing his three kids, all 5 years and younger.

“It’s a different time for all of us,” Boudia told Mike Tirico on NBCSN’s Lunch Talk Live on Thursday. “But, at the end of the day, this is not about just one person or one athlete or even one nation. This is a global epidemic, so we’re just trying to do what we can at home.”

Boudia, who won the 2012 Olympic platform title, is bidding for his fourth Olympics and his first on the springboard.

After earning two medals in Rio, Boudia took 2017 off from diving to sell homes. In February 2018, he suffered a concussion on a badly missed dive in training off the 10-meter platform, sparking the switch to springboard, a common move for divers late in their careers.

Last year, Boudia won a national title on the springboard. He finished fifth at the world championships. Goal accomplished. Boudia knew he needed to increase his difficulty for the Olympic year.

“It was different. I’m used to jumping off a three-story building, 33 feet up in the air,” Boudia told Tirico. “Transferring to a three-meter springboard, it puts a little spin on things, but the transition was smooth because I dove it at Purdue University for NCAAs. I’ll have to say, Mike, the next 14 months has kind of helped add some motivation where I can get that much better since I just switched to it right after the Rio Games. The more time, the better. Let’s see what it looks like two weeks from now, four weeks from now and then ultimately July 2021.”

Boudia’s next international competition could be the FINA World Cup, which was due to be held next week in Tokyo. When it is rescheduled, it is expected to be the last chance for nations to qualify quota spots for the Olympics. Boudia was expected to enter the synchronized springboard with his Rio Olympic platform partner, Steele Johnson.

Diving typically has an Olympic Trials, where the top two individuals per event can qualify for the Games, plus the top team per synchro event (assuming the U.S. qualifies the quota spots).

Boudia wants to become the first U.S. diver to compete on the platform and the springboard over an Olympic career since Mark Ruiz, who did both in 2000.

“Initially, athletes, you look at this, and it’s daunting,” Boudia said. “You’ve trained extremely hard the past four years. For us to be pushed back another year, it just seems, all that work you’ve done, now you do another 15 months of that. It’s overwhelming at times, but at the same time, at the end of the day, there’s a blessing to it. What are the things in my offseason that I couldn’t get to? What can I do now, planning forward, for the next 14 months that’s going to get me where I want to be in Tokyo 2021?”

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