Two years ago in Kazan, at the FINA World Championships the 16-year-old Kim Kuk Hyang at the time was the surprise woman, who won the 10m springboard event ahead of Chinese favourites. She could not repeat it at the Rio Olympics, though, yet she would shine again at the 2017 FINA World in Budapest.
Defending champion Si Yajie? The other Chinese favourite Ren Qian, or maybe Melissa Wu or Pandelela Rinong? The fans were expecting these athletes in the first place to win the medals in the women’s 10m springboard event of the 2015 FINA World Championships, and what happened? A 16-year-old North Korean girl, called Kim Kuk Hyang surprised the world by finishing first!
It is really difficult to get some information about North Korean athletes, and the same holds true in respect of Kim. She took up diving relatively late, at age 12, which is strange, considering that Chinese divers often start this sport at age 4 or 5.
Kim’s first major international event was the 2015 FINA World Championships, where she was not among the favourites, but she was performing superbly in the last round of the 5-dive final, and claimed the gold medal.
"I have appreciated each and every moment of this final. I train five hours a day, and I perform about 40 dives during the training. My model in the sport is the Chinese diver Chen Ruolin and I had the opportunity to compete against her. I tried to do my best. This was my first international event and my objective in Kazan was to get the Olympic qualification". – she said to fina.org.
The gold medal meant of course automatic qualification for the Olympics, and Kim’s goal was to finish on the podium at the Rio Games, too, where she competed in the 10m synchro as well, her partner was Kim Mi Rae. They performed really well, but they failed to win a medal (4th place). The 10m springboard turned out to be a nightmare for her, since she finished only in 25th place.
Many people thought that the gold medal at the 2015 FINA World was just a coincidence, but Kim has performed well in this year’s FINA Diving World Series events: she won the bronze medal in the 10m springboard and added a silver in the 10m synchro with Mi Rae in Guangzhou, and won another bronze in Beijing.
All in all, she will not be among the top favourites at the 17th FINA World Championships, but she has a chance to achieve a good score again. The final of the 10m synchro will be held on 16 July, the final of the 10m springboard on 19 July in the new Duna Arena in Budapest, presumably with Kim Kuk Hyang.
KIM KUK HYANG
Born: Pyongyang (North Korea), 4 April, 1999
World champion (2015 Kazan, 10m springboard)