Jamaican diver Yona Knight-Wisdom hopes his uncharacteristically large frame will not only help him stand out among his competitors at his first Olympics but also enable him to win by making as small a splash as possible.
Standing at 1.89m tall and weighing close to 90kg, the first male diver from the Caribbean island to qualify for the Olympics is at least 20cm taller than the slight Chinese divers who dominated the London 2012 Olympics.
While Knight-Wisdom sees his height as a disadvantage that prevents him from spinning as fast as other divers, his weight allows him to propel himself higher from the springboard and execute the harder dives, he said.
“My advantage is that I’m able to get a really clean entry into the water, so I make very little splash,” said Knight-Wisdom, who competes in the individual 3m springboard event. “I’m just aiming to keep it really, really simple and just try to get the most consistent performance, because I feel like people will make mistakes.”
The British-born 21-year-old, whose father is Jamaican and mother is from Barbados, now counts himself as a professional athlete after competing his Sports and Exercise Science degree at Leeds Beckett University, in May.
Sponsored by British-Jamaican musician and sauce maker Levi Roots, he chose to represent Jamaica after struggling to get into the British diving team.
Jamaica has only had one other Olympic diver, Betsy Sullivan, who participated in the 1972 Games in Munich.
In the run-up to the Games, Knight-Wisdom said he is training at least 25 hours a week with only Sundays off.
While he is keeping his eye on the final and clinching a spot in the Fina/NVC Diving World Series next year, his main goal is to enjoy the occasion, he said. Still, he admits his presence holds greater significance in breaking down stereotypes about divers.
“To see an African-American diver kind of at the top level in this sport, there’s very few of us,” he said. “Some people do still get shocked when I say I’m a diver.”
Meanwhile, China’s Wu Minxia will be making her bid to become the most decorated female Olympic diver during the Rio Games, fronting an attempt by her country to sweep all eight titles next month at the Maria Lenk Aquatics Centre.
The 30-year-old, who equalled her former diving partner Guo Jingjing’s record of four gold medals at the 2012 Olympics, will lead China’s 13-member team who are expected to dominate after winning six out of eight golds at test events in February.
They also won six of the eight titles at the London Games.
Among China’s other headline gold medal hopes are Qiu Bo, who won silver in the men’s 10m platform event in 2012, and 15-year-old Ren Qian, who scored a perfect 10 at the February test event in the women’s category.
China’s diving team leader, Zhou Jihong, has remained cautious over the country’s chances, saying that China “had no advantage in the men’s events” and warned that “dark horses” lurked in the women’s platform events.
“It is very hard. Our rivals are at high-level, very experienced and at the same time very young,” she was quoted by Xinhua news agency as saying about the men’s events in May.
The major competition for the Chinese men are the United States’ David Boudia, who will defend his 10m platform gold at his third Olympics, and Britain’s Tom Daley, who took the bronze in London.
Wu, however, will not be defending her individual 3m springboard gold and will instead compete in the synchronised event with team-mate Shi Tingmao.
North Korea will also be pinning their medal hopes on teenager Kim Kuk-hyang in the women’s 10m event after she won her country’s first gold at last year’s world championships.
While China dominated the test event, there are concerns that weather changes at the outdoor venue, especially during Brazil’s winter, could affect divers’ performances. The venue also suffered temporary power cuts during recent competitions.