Xiong Ni, a legendary figure in Chinese diving, was born in Changsha, the capital city of Central China's Hunan Province on January 6, 1974. He has participated in four Olympic Games within 13 years, and won three gold medals, one silver medal and one bronze medal.
Xiong entered the Hunan provincial team at the age of 8. Four years later, Xiong swept four titles in the National Diving Championships, a performance that earned him a place in the national team.
At the age of 14, he won a silver medal in men's platform diving at the Seoul Olympics in 1988.
"I was content with myself and got lost in celebrations and applause," he recalled many years later. "I just couldn't keep training regularly for a long time."
Only when he stood on the platform during the diving competition at the Barcelona Olympic Games in 1992, did he realize that he had wasted four years of his career.
"I was 18 and wanted an Olympic gold medal more than anyone else because it would be a milestone for me growing up," he recalled.
However, he ended up with a bronze. Pain, shame and frustration overwhelmed him as he wept alone behind the closed doors of a changing room. He hardly noticed the passage of time until the call for the awarding ceremony sounded. He had no time to change clothes and had to appear on the podium in his swimsuit.
"At that time, I was faced with critical choices," he said. "I had to decide whether to quit diving or stick to my Olympic dream, which would be a hard choice."
Despite losing the battle against discipline, Xiong proved his sportsmanship in enduring hardship. He managed to win three gold medals at the World Cup held in Beijing in 1993 in spite of the pain from a strained arm. "I got back my self-confidence through that victory," he recalled.
Though his growth and increasing weight forced him to shift from platform diving to springboard diving, Xiong went on to explore the new horizon in his career. At the Atlanta Olympic Games in 1996, he won a springboard diving gold medal, the first one for China in this event in the 100 years of the modern Olympics.
Immediately after the Atlanta games, he retired from the national team and became a sports official in his hometown Hubei province in central China.
But this was not the end of his long march to the Olympics. Due to the lack of proficient newcomers, the national diving team called Xiong back to compete two years later to prepare him for the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games.
Because he had not trained for two years, he had to climb up the stairs of a 10-meter-high platform more than 100 times and did hundreds of somersaults every day.
"I had to force myself to resume my top form, though I might not be able to win a gold medal. I did this not only for myself, but for my teammates and the nation," he said.
During the Sydney Olympic Games, the Chinese men's diving team, known as the "dream team," failed to win gold medals in the first three events of the diving competition.
Xiong took part in the fourth event, the 3m springboard. In this event the Chinese athletes did not have much of a chance to win the gold medal as Sautin of Russia led Xiong by more than 30 points after the first two dives in the final. In such a high-level international competition as the Olympic Games, a difference of 30 points usually means an inevitable defeat.
"At that time, I knew I had a very slim chance of winning. But I didn't want to look like a loser, therefore I hung on and made the best attempt in every dive," he recalled.
His persistence put a great deal of pressure on his rival. In the last dive of the final, Sautin chose to make a very difficult somersault in order to consolidate his victory. But he made a mistake, scored far less than Xiong, and at last, Xiong won the gold medal.
As his coach and teammates ran to the pool to congratulate him, Xiong burst into tears again as he did eight years ago. But this time, they were tears of joy. "I grew up in the pursuit of the Olympic dream. The Olympic experience taught me never to give up," he said.
He also won the gold medal of the men's 3m springboard synchronized diving at the Sydney Olympic Games.