Yulia Pakhalina of Russia led the preliminaries of 3-meter springboard diving, beating out Canada's Blythe Hartley and China's Guo Jingjing. American Rachelle Kunkel advanced to the semifinals with a 12th-place showing.
The 26-year-old Pakhalina became one of the top springboard divers in the world after failing to qualify for the 1996 Atlanta Games. She won the event at the 1998 world championships and teamed with fellow Russian star Vera Ilyina to win gold in synchronized springboard at Sydney four years ago.
Pakhalina easily led the preliminaries with 347.04 points. Hartley was next with 321.33, while Guo claimed the third spot at 319.71. Ilyina, a four-time Olympian, was fourth with 311.97.
"It wasn't that great, but we did our best for today," Pakhalina said.
The Chinese have won women's springboards at the last four Olympics. Gao Min went back-to-back in 1988 and 1992, then Fu Mingxia duplicated the feat in Atlanta and Sydney.
Guo is a three-time Olympian and solid candidate to keep the streak alive. The 22-year-old won silver behind Fu at the 2000 Games and is the reigning world champion on the 3-meter board.
Four countries dominated the top eight in the preliminaries. Australians Loudy Tourky (fifth) and Irina Lashko (eighth) were in contention, along with China's Wu Minxia (sixth) and Canada's Emilie Heymans (seventh).