The women's 10-meter platform event at the London Olympics begins with the preliminary round on Wednesday, one day after Zakharov stopped China's quest for a sweep of diving gold with a strong performance in the men's 3-meter springboard.
Now Mexico's Sanchez is hoping to build on her podium finish in 10-meter synchro last week, but the platform is still China's event to lose.
Chen Ruolin already paired with Wang Hao to win the 10-meter synchro event and also won both titles before her home fans at the 2008 Beijing Games as a 15-year-old. She then swept both events at last year's world championships in Shanghai, too.
On her 26th birthday, Espinosa Sanchez took silver with Alejandra Orozco in 10-meter synchro last week.
But if the crowd inside the Olympic Aquatics Centre is anything like it was for Zakharov's victory Tuesday, anything could happen.
Fans cheered loudly when Zakharov nailed his final dive. The Russian pumped his left arm as he swam toward the edge of the pool.
With the top two separated by a mere 1.25 points, the gold medal all came down to the final round.
Diving one spot ahead of Zakharov with the lead, China's Qin Kai scored 89.10 points for a reverse 2½ somersault with 1½ twists pike. Zakharov hit a much tougher dive, a forward 4½ somersault tuck, for 104.50 points, and snapped China's streak of five straight diving golds at these games.
"I'm so pleased that I have managed to take away at least one medal from China," Zakharov said through a translator. "After the last dive when I came up to the surface and I heard the noise that's when the happiness swept over me."
He totaled 555.90 points in the six-round final for Russia's first diving gold since 2000, when Dmitri Sautin and Igor Lukashin won the men's 10-meter synchro in Sydney.
"When I started and still now my idol was Dmitri Sautin," Zakharov said, in awe of his countryman's seven Olympic medals. "He's a legend in our sport and I can't even start to compare myself to him."
A 21-year-old from St. Petersburg, Zakharov was runner-up in 3-meter synchro in London, and in both 3-meter synchro and individual at last year's worlds. He also finished second three times on individual 3-meter during this year's World Series events.
Qin settled for silver at 541.75. He Chong, the defending champion and Qin's teammate, earned the bronze at 524.15 in front of a crowd that included Sammy Lee, the first man to win consecutive golds in platform. The 92-year-old American won his first title in London in 1948 and repeated in 1952.
"He did really wonderful today and this is what the Olympics is all about," Qin said. "I want to congratulate him even if I feel a little bit sorry. He did so well today."
Zakharov lost to Qin and his partner Luo Yutong in 3-meter synchro.
"I understood that the Chinese are reachable during my synchronized 3-meter springboard dive," Zakharov said. "The last dive (Tuesday) was most difficult for me because during the previous competition a mistake at that stage cost me a medal."