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The 21-year-old topped his group in both the preliminaries and semi-finals and led in the final from his first to his sixth dive for a score of 547.60. In a series of near faultless dives his scores never dipped below 85.00 and his final dive left no doubt as to his claim for gold – a 96.90 effort that put his total at 547.60 points, almost 24 points ahead of his nearest challenger.
It is Cao’s first individual Olympic gold and second of his career after his synchronised platform win in London 2012. After missing out on gold in the men’s synchronised 3m springboard in Rio, Cao left nothing to chance and it paid off with his brilliant performance.
Britain’s Jack Laugher, also 21 and a gold medallist in synchronised 3m springboard in Rio, took the silver despite only scraping into the finals in 12th and last place. Germany’s Patrick Hausding, who placed fourth in London, won the bronze and had the highest-scoring dive of the finals at 98.80.
There was a surprise line-up for the final after a big medal contender, China’s He Chao, was eliminated in preliminaries. London 2012 gold medallist Ilia Zakharov of Russia had also been knocked out, putting even more focus on Cao ahead of the final.
“I did feel pressure,” Cao said. “But it was all about myself and I think I was able to let go and really focus on my performance and putting on a show.” Cao exhibited more height, tighter spins and twists and cleaner entries than his competitors, a testament to his talent and diving style.
China now have a total of seven medals in diving at the Rio Games, followed by Britain with three. For Laugher, who placed 27th in this event in London, finishing second marked a huge progression.
“It’s really hard to get on the board and actually do it and you saw that in the semi-final when I almost didn’t make the final,” he said. “I always knew that I could win medals at these Olympic Games as my performance has been on the up since 2013, but actually doing it is a completely different story. I came out here and did my best, and it paid off with a truly fantastic performance.”
Hausding came into the 3m springboard competition after two fourth places in the 3m and 10m synchronised events. Unable to secure an Olympic medal since his surprise 10m synchronised silver medal in Beijing in 2008, he savoured bronze. “I had some tough times here with two fourth places so to claim third place and win a second Olympic medal is very good,” said the 27-year-old.