LONDON — The medals were silver, but the smiles of Abby Johnston and Kelci Bryant showed that they meant much, much more than that.
Johnston and Bryant finished second in the women's synchronized 3-meter competition Sunday, claiming the first U.S. diving medal since 2000. Their final dive, a backward two-and-a-half somersault, might have been their best.
''My heart rate was going, but I knew Abby was going to do a great dive," said Bryant, who acknowledged she was scoreboard-watching on the final dive in 2008, a mental error that led to an agonizing fourth-place finish. This time, she said, she never peeked.
What made this year's silver even more special was how close Bryant and Johnston came to missing out on the opportunity to compete for it. They beat Kassidy Cook and Christina Loukas at the Olympic trials by 42-hundredths of a point over 15 dives, a margin akin to winning a 10K by outleaning your opponent at the tape.
Emilie Heymans and Jennifer Abel took the bronze Canada's first medal of the Games but they and the Americans were both far behind the Chinese team of Wu Minxia and He Zi.
China has dominated Olympic diving for years; Wu's gold was her third in a row in the event. Chinese divers won seven of the eight diving golds in Beijing in 2008, and the country is aiming for a sweep this year. That makes each silver more precious: the de facto gold medal for the rest of the world.
Johnston says watching video of the Chinese divers is part of her training routine, and Bryant acknowledged she was impressed by them again. Critics have countered that China's dominance is hurting diving by essentially freezing other countries off podiums, but Bryant disagreed.
''I can't see how watching flawless dives could be a bad thing," Bryant said. "If anything it inspires people to work harder."