Fu Mingxia Biography
Chronology, Awards And Accomplishments, Further Information
Chinese diver Fu Mingxia had international success at such a young age that she prompted world diving
officials to create rules requiring divers to be fourteen before they could appear in major competitions. At her first Olympic appearance in 1992, she was only thirteen, but was credited with advancing the difficulty of dives being performed in competitions. Mingxia went on to become the first female diver to win gold medals at three consecutive Olympics, where she has competed in ten-meter platform, three-meter springboard, and three-meter synchronized diving events. Known as the Queen of Diving in her homeland, her fans have watched her change from a slim, giggling child into a sophisticated, womanly figure. Following the 1996 Olympics, she suffered from burnout and temporarily left the sport to begin studying economics, but returned in time to compete in the 2000 Olympics. Now retired from diving, Mingxia has become wealthy appearing in advertisements. She is also serving on China's 2008 Olympic Bid Committee.
Mingxia was born in 1978 in Wuhan, Hubei province, China. She was not considered flexible enough for gymnastics, which she had begun learning as a pre-schooler, and was introduced to diving at age seven. Her training began before she knew how to swim, causing her coach to tie a rope around her waist so that she could be pulled from the water. Her father would teach her how to swim after work. Mingxia was sent away to diving school in Beijing at age nine. After the move she rarely saw her parents, a factory worker and an accountant. The training program was extremely rigorous. Diving students practiced up to ten hours per day, seven days a week, while also going to school. Mingxia was very scared when first learning platform diving, but the rules forbid her from climbing back down the steps.
Despite Mingxia's initial fears, she soon developed exceptional skills. In 1990 she began diving in international competitions. That year she won the Alamo Invitational at age eleven; in the Goodwill Games, she won a gold medal in platform diving. When she placed third in the 1990 Asian Games, Mingxia revised her routines and came back even stronger. In 1991 she became the youngest woman to win gold at the World Championships and youngest world champion ever in aquatic sports. This led diving's international governing body to change their regulations, requiring divers to be fourteen to compete in the World Cup, World Championships, and Olympics. Thus, Mingxia was prohibited from competing in the 1991 World Cup, but a loophole allowed her to dive in the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona.
A slim thirteen-year-old who was known to brush the platform with her closely-cut hair, Mingxia performed more difficult dives than were normally seen when she appeared at the 1992 Olympics. Winning gold in the ten-meter event, she became the youngest platform diver to win an Olympic gold medal. Her future successes, however, would be hard won. The years of training between Barcelona and the 1996 games in Atlanta, Georgia were very difficult for Mingxia. She had considerable trouble keeping slim, a great advantage in diving, after she was fifteen and remembers vividly feeling hungry all the time. Mingxia won a gold medal at the 1994 World Championships, but she was unhappy. She says she often cried while training for Atlanta and that music was one thing that soothed her.
Mingxia's troubles were not evident when she won two gold medals in Atlanta, in the platform and three-meter events. At the previous Olympics she had been five-feet tall and ninety-eight pounds; now she was two inches taller and almost thirty pounds heavier. Although she was heavier, she was also stronger and incredibly consistent. In the competition, she was the only diver to receive more than sixty points on each of her dives. Her victories made her the first woman to win both events at one Olympics since Ingrid Kramer had done so in 1960. Along with Ziong Ni, who won gold in the men's springboard event, Mingxia led a dominant Chinese diving team. Their success was attributed in part to the fact that they practiced more than their rivals. However, Mingxia suffered from mental exhaustion after the Olympics, and at age nineteen received permission to retire from the Physical Culture and Sports Commission of China.
Amidst criticism that she had deserted her team, Mingxia began studying economics at Qinghua University in Beijing. She did not dive for two years, but came to practice with the university's diving team because she wondered if she could still dive and enjoy it. Finding her skills, if not fitness intact, she was able to follow a more limited training schedule, working half-days with weekends off. She proceeded to win two gold medals at the 1999 University Games and a silver in the springboard event at the 2000 FINA Diving World Cup.
At the 2000 Olympics in Sydney, Australia, Mingxia was just twenty-two years old. She now had long, streaked hair and was seen as rebelling in other small ways, such as appearing at interviews without a handler. When she won a gold medal in springboard diving she reached the same plateau as divers Greg Louganis and Pat McCormick, who were previously the only divers to hold four Olympic gold medals. At the same time, Mingxia became the first female diver to win gold at three consecutive Olympic games. Remarkably, she also won a silver medal competing in the new event of synchronized diving with partner Guo Jingjing.
Fu Mingxia retired in 2001, having cemented her status as China's diving queen and as a model of excellence for divers everywhere. Her exceptional grace, flexibility, and strength allowed her to execute the most difficult dives with seeming ease. Beginning with her gold-medal winning performance at the 1992 Olympics, she dominated women's diving for more than eight years. While her earliest experiences in the sport were frightening and lonely, she came to love diving and would return from retirement in order to satisfy herself rather than others. Mingxia ended her career as one of the most successful divers ever.
Sketch by Paula Pyzik Scott
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