BEIJING (AP) Wait 'til 2012.
The U.S. divers could only point to the future after a second straight medals shutout, their subtle signs of progress thoroughly overshadowed at an Olympics dominated by the home team.
China won a record seven gold medals in Beijing, missing out on a sweep in the final event and showing no signs of loosening its grip on a sport once ruled by the Americans.
The young U.S. team - six of the 12 members are still in their teens - did provide hope for the London Games, consistently making finals and contending for a couple of synchro medals. But when it came to getting on that podium, the Americans came up short again.
"The Chinese didn't build the wall in four years," said David Boudia, who finished 10th Saturday night on the 10-meter platform, the final diving event of the games. "We're just starting our dynasty. We're going to be there in 2012. We've already improved so much in the last four years. I'm just looking forward to what happens in the next four years."
The Americans used to be the team everyone was chasing, dominating the boards with gold medalists such as Greg Louganis, Pat McCormick and Sammy Lee.
But the rise of the Chinese in the 1980s signaled a new superpower, and there appears little chance of anyone stopping their annual hoarding of the diving medals.
"They've been doing it since they were this high," said retiring American Laura Wilkinson, holding a hand at her knee. "They are hand-picked. They don't go to school. They train full-time. It's just different. It's very different."
Mimicking the Chinese just a bit, the U.S. tried a new approach leading into the Beijing Games, centralizing the training and setting up a more rigorous qualification system. The Olympics trials were used to pick only the top individual divers; the rest of the team was picked at a selection camp where the competitors had to perform another round of dives.
The idea was to produce a national team that would perform better at the international level and stand up to the pressure of an Olympics.
"We've brought back more international medals this quadrennial than ever before, even during the Greg Louganis era," said Troy Dumais, a three-time Olympian who plans to come back for a fourth. "Is it working? Whatever we're doing, it's paying off."
A look beyond the medal count shows the Americans did improve on their performance from Athens. Four years ago, Wilkinson had the highest U.S. finish - fifth on 10-meter platform - and four divers didn't even get out of the preliminaries.
This time around, 15-year-old Haley Ishimatsu was the lone American to be eliminated before a final.
In the men's 3-meter springboard, Dumais finished sixth and Chris Colwill 12th; on the women's side, Christina Loukas was seventh and Nancilea Foster eighth.
Wilkinson had a disappointing end to her career, going out ninth on the 10-meter platform, while Ishimatsu was eliminated in the semifinals. For the men, Boudia's 10th-place showing was followed by Thomas Finchum in 12th.
The closest thing to a medal came in women's 3-meter synchro. Kelci Bryant and Ariel Rittenhouse were fourth, missing a bronze by only 4.5 points.
The men's team of Chris Colwill and Jevon Tarantino also was fourth, a little further back, while both platform synchro teams were fifth - Boudia and Finchum for the men, Ishimatsu and Mary Beth Dunnichay in the women's event.
"Obviously it's encouraging," team leader Bob Rydze said. "When we started this in 2005, our major goal was just to get reorganized and work for 2012. The finishes here were obviously a lot better than our last Olympic Games."
Rydze took a shot at the judges, saying he felt the Americans could have won up to three medals in synchro.
"I don't know what the international judges are looking for," he said. "Obviously, we've got to go back and figure that out."
Maybe the Americans should take it a little more seriously. Rydze conceded there hasn't been enough emphasis on synchro in the past, even though it provides better odds at a medal than the individual events. Only eight teams take part in each synchro competition.
"We've got to put a lot more emphasis on our synchronized diving," he said. "The United States has in the past not taken that very seriously. The depth is very great in the United States. There's no reason why in 2012 we can't win four medals in synchro."
The immediate goal for USA Diving is picking a new high-performance director. Longtime coach Ron O'Brien is finally stepping aside, and his replacement will handle the Olympic post-mortem and set the course for 2012.
The changes aren't likely to be nearly as dramatic as they were after the Athens Games.
"Obviously, we want to win medals," Rydze said. "In that respect, there's a little disappointment. I thought our synchro teams could very easily have had three medals, and I think maybe that would have taken a little pressure off the individual kids. Things start to get on a roll. But once the synchro teams did not win any medals, then (the pressure) just builds and builds and builds.
"But this is different than Athens, where it was a collapse there at the end. Here, our divers and our coaches really held together. They didn't quit at all."