London: When you are training to be a Shaolin monk, a little dabbling in the martial arts ensures that you are physically prepared for any event. The mental training ensures that an individual is focused enough to use the tools that the body has.
So Chinese diver Qui Bo uses his mental faculties to gain a mastery of his discipline. And if the certification of his colleagues in an indication, he seems to have done quite well for himself. Despite his silver medal in the 10m platform event at the London Games, Bo is keen on exploring the frontiers of his discipline until there is no limit left to push ahead.
Silver medals are not entirely a reflection of the owner’s capabilities. In Bo’s case, even a gold medal would not do justice to his immense potential.
Silver medals are not entirely a reflection of the owner’s capabilities. In Bo’s case, even a gold medal would not do justice to his immense potential. Small wonder that those who come up against him in competition call him ‘The Robot’, which Bo himself takes as a compliment.
He mainly competes against himself and, if he falters, then his opponent may win by the thinnest of margins. Bo, however, has bigger designs on the future: he wants to go head-to-head with gravity. After Greg Louganis, Bo is the closest thing to perfection that the sport of diving has witnessed.
Leaning forward to speak through a translator, during an interview organised by his sponsor Omega, Bo made a confession: “I have been aware of being called the ‘Robot Man’ by the foreign and Chinese media. I hope I can become like that because being that way means having no psychological worries in a competition — my actions can then be delivered accurately like a machine. I hope I can become like a machine,” he said.
The margin for error in a sport like diving is tiny. Each manoeuvre exacts tremendous effort and, should it go wrong, mounting a comeback is virtually impossible.
Given his high standards, Bo let himself down at a crunch situation during the Olympic competition, eventually letting the gold medal slip from his grasp and instead go to David Boudia of the US, who he beat by 40 points at the World Championships last year and who became the first American to win platform diving gold since Louganis in 1988.
“My overall performance was actually pretty normal,” said Bo, seemingly unruffled by the fact that his superiority had been tested. “It’s my normal standard being played out. But looking back there were perhaps a few questionable actions which I could have dealt with differently — the action in my first dive wasn’t so tidy and the start in my fifth dive wasn’t as neat as I had expected. Therefore the angle for entering wasn’t as perfect as I had wanted.”
Perfect is a word that Bo uses loosely, thanks to the high expectations that he demands from himself. A dive is either faultless, or it is nothing.
Bo’s idol has been Russian diver Dmitry Sautin, the sport’s most successful athlete. The Russian is also known to be one of the toughest, having recovered from numerous injuries, a chronic back problem and a stabbing in 1991 from which he almost bled to death. Each time Sautin faced misfortune, he used it as a motivation to launch a comeback.
Bo’s moment of shame came in London, which is why he so desperately wants the gold he lost back in Rio in four years’ time. “Through my efforts I believe I will stand at the top with a gold again,” he said.
Watching Bo rehash his fundamentals is always worth the price of admission. Most athletes pay the price of fame either mentally or physically, but this is where Bo, the diving machine, has perfected his approach to his sport with a ruthless effort at weaving his mind and body until they become one irresistible force. When all the elements come together as one, Bo launches an attack on gravity. Every muscle, every cell in his body is called into the fight and begins to respond to his commands.
“Basically before stepping on the board I adjust the mind and approach the action with a balanced state of mind. I calm down and visualise each action that I am supposed to take in my mind and I motivate all the muscles in my body, down to every little cell, because they play their part,” he said.
When the diving actually begins, Bo is in ‘the zone’, unaware of what is happening in his mind, or his body. Everything after that is broken down to simplicities, like technique.
“You get yourself into a very excited stage,” he said. “Your body then becomes active and mentally you become extremely alert and attentive to the slightest detail, rather than being flat and monotonous.”
This is the attitude that transcends all manner of human behaviour: it is also the reason why Bo can never lose.