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Underdogs make a splash on Day 5 of diving

Summer Games 4 August 2023

“China are the favourites,” said longtime commentator Robbie Nock before any athlete even hit the water on Day 5 of diving competition at the Chengdu FISU World University Games.

He was right.

With flawless performances, the FISU Games hosts won gold in both events on Friday in thethe women’s 3m synchronized springboard and mixed 10m synchronized platform.

Ker Ong (R) and Kimberly Bong (Malaysia) in women’s 3m synchronized springboard

Chinese athletes have triumphed in every diving event so far in Chengdu.

But what Nock did not see coming was the underdogs who joined Chen Jia and Yang Ruilin on the 3m podium, namely silver medallist Malaysia and third-place finisher Italy.

The Malaysians and Italians had one very particular thing in common, that this was their first time ever competing together.

“Two hours in total.”

That was the amount of practice time Elettra Neroni and Matilde Borello had together before coming to the capital of Sichuan province.

Since they come from different cities in Italy and currently live on different continents, the women never trained as a pair. The same applies to the Malaysians, but at an even greater level.

“This is me and my partner’s first ‘synchro’ event,” said Kimberly Bong.

Elettra Neroni and Matilde Borello (Italy)

Neither Ker Ong nor Bong had competed in a synchronized competition before. Ever.

So how did they manage to win medals in such a high-level event as the FISU Summer Games? Simply put, they relied on the power of friendship. The Italians have known each other since they were 11. The Malaysians met a little earlier, at nine.

“You know how to control the other’s personality, to cheer on the other person and also how to encourage them,” said Neroni.

Borello agrees.

“You can get the best from the other person too, we are comfortable together,” she said.

And as TV personality and survival expert Bear Grylls once said: “Improvise, adapt, overcome.”

Which is exactly what the underdogs did.

They had to come up with new dives so that both athletes could perform equally well.

“She had to do a dive that she never does,” said Bong about her partner. “Her difficulty is quite higher than mine and I can’t really do what she does.”

As for the Italians, they had to adjust their hurdles – the jumping the athletes do on the board before they dive – and their standing positions so they could start simultaneously.

Instead of years of training, Italy and Malaysia relied in one of the most coveted intangibles in all sports, chemistry.

“I think me and my partner, we just have it,” said Bong.

Written by Pedro Consoli, FISU Young Reporter