Chinese coach in love with Mexican diving

Rio de Janeiro, Feb 25 (IANS) The 2016 FINA Diving World Cup concluded here last week with Mexican divers winning one gold and one bronze and ranking third on the medals table. Behind those achievements stands a Chinese coach.

She is Ma Jin, an easygoing Chinese woman and hardworking diving coach. She is called “Chinese mother” by Mexico’s “diving queen” Paola Espinosa. Ma has been awarded the Order of the Aztec Eagle, the country’s highest honour for foreigners, reports Xinhua.

In 2002, Mexico signed a deal with Beijing to import Chinese coaches, and Ma was among those who arrived in 2003. Since then, diving in Mexico has enjoyed fast development. At the London Olympics, the Mexican diving team earned three of the country’s seven medals.

The team showed themselves to be a competitive power at the 2016 FINA Diving World Cup, which is also the Olympic diving test event. In total, 272 athletes from 49 countries and regions competed for 88 spots in the Rio Olympic diving competition.

In men’s 3m springboard finals, Mexican Maruffo Pacheco took first place with a score of 504.40. Jamaican Yona Roshen Knight-Wisdom came second with American Kristian Ipsen third. Ma said she hadn’t expected Pacheco to win in the highly competitive event.

“He transferred from 10m platform to 3m springboard after the London Olympics. This time he didn’t make so many errors compared with other divers,” said Ma.

The Diving World Cup is staged at the Maria Lenk Aquatics Centre, which is also the venue for the Olympic diving event. Ma said Mexico has gained all the Olympic berths except women’s synchronised 3m springboard. “I hope we can have better results at the Rio Olympics.”

Ma has another proud student in Espinosa. The most popular woman diver in Mexico won two Olympic medals in Beijing 2008 and London 2012, and top prize in the women’s platform in the 2009 World Championships, beating Chinese Olympic star Chen Ruolin.

Due to Espinosa’s triumphs, Ma is considered a hero in Mexico and has been feted by the Mexican president with the Aztec Eagle award. She is so familiar to the Mexican press that even reporters can pronounce Ma’s name with a decent Chinese accent.

Ma spoke highly of Mexico’s recent progress in diving. “The country is paying more and more attention to the sport,” she said.

Inspired by Espinosa, one of the country’s most popular sports stars, more and more children in Mexico are going to diving schools, with many parents hoping they can be as successful as her.

“Mexicans are crazy about their idols and love watching sports very much. Espinosa is the most-welcomed star except for soccer stars in the country,” said Ma.

In addition to being honoured by the Mexican government, Ma was also commended by Chinese President Xi Jinping in his speech to Mexico’s senate when he visited the country in 2013.

Although Ma is enjoying a successful coaching career, things were not easy for her at the beginning. When she first arrived in the country in 2003, she had difficulty adjusting to the language, cultural differences and custom.

“I always believe in survival of the fittest. When you come to a new place, you cannot change the environment, you have to change yourself,” said Ma.

Now, 13 years later, she has become acclimatized and speaks fluent Spanish.

Ma recalled that she had once considered returning to China because she was homesick, but it was Espinosa who helped her decide to stay.

At the 2006 World Aquatics Championships, Espinosa cried before her competition, which Ma thought was because she feared losing. Ma learned later that it was because she feared losing her coach if she didn’t perform well.

Moved by Espinosa, Ma dedicated herself to training divers like Espinosa. Those efforts have paid off with the remarkable achievements by Espinosa and her teammates.

The young divers treat Ma not only as a coach, but also as a mother, and say they would help her solve any problems she encounters.

To earn the divers’ trust, Ma adopted a softer way in training, not only focusing on technique, but also doing a lot of personal communication.

Ma said that now her divers send her a message every night: “We love you.”

“It really touches me a lot,” said Ma. “The feeling is just like when I see them standing on the podium.”

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