USA Diving News China's Chen leads w...

China's Chen leads women's platform semifinals

Aug. 21, 2008, 1:33 a.m. (ET)

BEIJING (AP) China's Chen Ruolin led the women's 10-meter platform semifinals Thursday, setting the home team up for its seventh diving gold of the Beijing Olympics.

American Laura Wilkinson, the 2000 gold medalist, also advanced to the final in her farewell event. She is retiring after the Beijing Games.

Chen is the world's top-ranked diver on the high board and sure looked it, receiving two 10s on her second dive and another perfect mark on her final attempt to easily lead the 18-woman field with 444.60 points. She had the highest-scoring dive in four of the five rounds.

The youngest diver in the field, the 15-year-old Chen also had the top score of the preliminaries and will be a huge favorite in Thursday night's final, trying to keep China on course for a golden sweep of the eight diving events.

Mexico's Paola Espinosa was second with 400.75, and world champion Wang Xin of China was third with 388.55. The top 12 advanced.

Espinosa wasn't conceding anything to the Chinese.

"People always insist, 'These girls are the best and they are going to win,'" she said. "But they're not unbeatable. Of course it's possible to win. That's what make tonight's competition interesting."

Wilkinson got off to a sluggish start. The 30-year-old from Houston received low marks for her toughest dive, a back 3½ somersault, but rallied to finish sixth at 346.10.

As is her custom, Wilkinson saved her best dive for the end, receiving a string of 8.5s for a back 2½ somersault with 1½ twists. She sliced though the water, emerged with a big smile and hugged several competitors on deck, knowing she had kept it going for five more dives.

"This is it," she said. "I'm going to enjoy it, whether I'm first or fifth. Whatever place I end up, I'm going to enjoy the ride."

Wilkinson, the oldest diver in the final, has been bothered by chronically sore triceps that flare up on her entries.

"I'm used it. I'm kind of old, you know. We have these aches and pains," she quipped. "But it's holding up fine. My last entry was great. I know it's there. I just really need to be confident I can use it even though it's sore."

While the veteran moved on, 15-year-old Olympic rookie Haley Ishimatsu was eliminated. The American was in the top 12 until the final round, but under-rotated her entry and landed with a huge splash on the same dive that Wilkinson nailed to secure her spot in the final.

Ishimatsu was in tears afterward.

"I'm disappointed," she said, struggling to compose herself. "But just to be diving here has been a great experience for me."

While Wilkinson is retiring, Ishimatsu plans on being back four years from now.

"Now I know what the experience is like, some of the surprises," the teenager said. "I'll be able to deal with it better."