Performing on home soil in Shanghai will add to China's top divers' motivation when the world aquatics championships open this weekend in Shanghai.
The Chinese team has long dominated the diving portion of the worlds, winning 14 medals in Rome in 2009, including seven out of 10 golds. But in recent years, the marquee swimming events have tended to be showdowns between the American, Australian and European teams, with China lagging behind.
With the worlds in China for the first time, Chinese swimmers are expected to fare much better. The United States and China each won 29 medals overall in Rome, including 11 golds.
"We have conducted very systematic practices and exercises and the whole team is in very high spirits," said He Chong, the defending champion in the men's 3-metre springboard. "I am confident I'll be able to defend my championship in the 3-metre springboard. I want to give a wonderful performance for all of my supporters."
Teammate Huo Liang, the reigning Olympic and world champion in the men's 10-metre synchro with partner Lin Yue, is also hoping for a good showing, particularly given he is from Shanghai.
"I'm very happy to compete in my hometown," Huo said Tuesday. "It inspires my motivation."
Phelps, Aussies look to bounce back
When the swimming begins on July 24, all eyes will be on Michael Phelps and Cesar Cielo — if Cielo is allowed to defend his titles in the 50- and 100-meter freestyle after testing positive for the banned substance furosemide.
Cielo blames a contaminated food supplement for the positive test in May. After Brazilian officials let Cielo off with a warning, swimming's governing body appealed the case to the Court of Arbitration for Sport in Switzerland. A decision is pending.
Phelps has struggled this season. The winner of eight gold medals at the 2008 Beijing Olympics won two races in a tune-up event for the worlds in Montreal this month. He could swim in up to seven events in Shanghai.
Australia, meanwhile, is looking to improve on its lacklustre performance in 2009 — the team won only four gold medals, far below its usual haul.
The women's team is particularly strong, led by Stephanie Rice, a three-time gold medalist at the Beijing Olympics, as well as three swimmers ranked No. 1 in the world in their events this year: Alicia Coutts (100 butterfly), Kylie Palmer (200 freestyle) and Belinda Hocking (200 backstroke).
Australia coach Leigh Nugent said last Friday that his sprinters can't let the controversy surrounding Cielo's participation become a distraction.
"The message to our athletes will be that whoever stands up to the blocks in the finals are the people you're going to be racing for medals against and it doesn't matter what's gone on before that," he said.
The men's water polo competition could come down to a duel between Olympic champion Hungary and defending world champion Serbia. The United States has won the last two women's titles, though the Americans will face a stiff challenge from Australia and China.