China's Guo somersaults her way closer to gold

Aug. 16, 2008, 11:11 a.m. (ET)

BEIJING (AP) Guo Jingjing somersaulted and twisted off the 3-meter springboard, knifing through the water with barely a ripple while moving China closer to its fifth diving gold medal of the Beijing Olympics.

Guo topped the semifinal standings Saturday night with 398.55 points, giving the woman who's a superstar in her home country a chance to win her second consecutive Olympic springboard title.

Julia Pakhalina of Russia, the bronze medalist four years ago in Athens, moved on to Sunday's final in second with 383.50.

"I have to do my best dives and be satisfied with myself, not thinking so much about knocking down Guo Jingjing," said Pakhalina, who trains in the U.S.

China's Wu Minxia, who was second to Guo in Athens, finished third with 345.30.

American Nancilea Foster advanced in fourth with 338.90, putting the U.S. in position to earn a medal in women's springboard for the first time since the 1988 Seoul Games.

"I've been the underdog for a long time," she said. "I think I perform well in that role."

Foster's coach Ken Armstrong said she was more relaxed than during Friday's preliminaries.

"I don't make predictions very often, but some neat stuff is going to happen," he said. "You watch."

Foster's teammate Christina Loukas was seventh at 329.00. The top 12 divers made the final, and their semifinal scores are dropped.

"I know I can do better," she said. "I like being in that position. It kind of takes off some of the pressure. People aren't expecting anything out of me. If I do well, it will be like, 'Wow, where did she come from?'"

Each time Guo appeared on the board, the mostly Chinese fans inside the Water Cube cheered wildly, then grew quiet anticipating what they were about to see.

Guo didn't disappoint, especially on her fourth dive. She nailed a forward 2½ somersault with one twist from the pike position for 81.00 points.

She ended with her highest-scoring dive of the round - an inward 2½ somersault pike - worth 82.50 points.

Only once was Guo outscored in the semifinals. Pakhalina hit her second dive for 78.00 points, topping Guo's score of 76.50. Wu tied her teammate with 79.50 points for their opening dives.

Guo already defended her synchronized springboard title with partner Wu last weekend to win China's first diving gold of these games. Guo is a four-time world champion who plans to retire after Beijing.

China is 4-for-4 after claiming all the synchronized gold medals in Beijing. No country has swept the diving medals since the United States did in 1952, but back then, there were only four events. Synchronized diving was added at the 2000 Sydney Olympics.