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By Tom Harle
DIVING star Eden Cheng is committed to representing the changing face of English sport at the Commonwealth Games.
The South Londoner will be one of few British Chinese athletes at Birmingham 2022, challenging the perceptions of a community under-represented in elite sport.
That mission is about more than a medal for the Tokyo Olympian.
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“When children don’t see these faces, they may not believe that they can reach that level of sport,” said Cheng, who is one of more than 1,100 elite athletes on UK Sport’s National Lottery-funded World Class Programme, allowing him to train full time, have access to the world’s best coaches and benefit from pioneering technology, science and medical support.
“When I first got onto the British team, I was the only different-looking person in that environment.
“I was welcomed with open arms and I never felt that barrier but some people are treated differently because of how they look.”
“In aquatics in particular, there aren’t many Asian faces.
“I know a lot of people growing up who have dropped out of sport because of stereotyping. It’s important that I show up and show it’s possible.”
Balancing sport with A-Levels in maths, biology and PE, Cheng achieved two A-stars from Alleyne’s School in Dulwich.
After the home Games her plan is to study at the University of California, having signed a letter of intent to study there in 2021.
“Most people see British Chinese people as being good at academia, music or business,” she said. “That’s what you instantly think of.
“For me growing up, I didn’t see that problem but I’m now understanding it. It’s important to challenge that where we can.”
Cheng is coached by Chen Lin, crowned world champion at 10m for China in 1986, another rare Asian face on the pool deck.
“There are times when people assume we’re related, because we look the same and are in the same team,” Cheng revealed.
“Working with her showcases that we’re getting people from different backgrounds into the team, not just as athletes, but our support staff too.”
This summer, Team England, supported by funding raised by National Lottery players, will comprise of over 400 athletes, and having secured her place on the squad, Cheng is looking to capitalise on the once in a lifetime opportunity for medal success in her home country.
Expectations are high for the 10m platform star heading to Birmingham.
Cheng made her Olympic debut in Tokyo last summer, finishing seventh in the 10m synchro event alongside Lois Toulson.
The 19-year-old has continued to progress since then and took her first individual title at the British Championships, beating Toulson and Andrea Spendolini-Sirieix in a thrilling competition.
That will make her one of the favourites to win a medal for Team England in the second city.
“It was a very significant win for me,” she said. “In previous years, I haven't really had the opportunity to be known as an individual diver.
“The three of us train together and we've always been rivals. I had injuries coming into it and I was still able to put such a good performance out.
“I can now stand up and say, I’m not just a synchro partner, I’m established in the individual competition.”
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