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Newz Forum: OLYMPICS: US divers shut out

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posted on Aug, 28 2004 @ 08:50 AM
U.S. divers won't be getting any medals at these Olympics - a stunning result for a country that used to rule the boards.

The first shutout in 92 years was assured when Caesar Garcia and Kyle Prandi failed to advance out of the 10-meter platform preliminaries Friday.

Now comes the job of figuring out what went wrong.

"It is a surprise and it's been a difficult games for USA Diving," team leader Russ Bertram said. "We've struggled internationally for a while."

The slowdown started in 1996, when the Americans earned only a couple of bronzes in Atlanta. Then Laura Wilkinson won a surprise gold four years ago, the only diving medal captured in Sydney.

This time, the highest U.S. finish was a fifth by Wilkinson on 10-meter platform, with four divers - Kimiko Soldati, Justin Wilcock, Garcia and Prandi - failing to get out of the preliminaries in their events.

"This games proved more than anything that diving is a very precarious sport," Bertram said. "There were many events that the expected outcome was not what it was. Things can shift in a heartbeat."

The Americans' showing is arguably their worst ever. The only other time they failed to win a medal was the 1912 Stockholm Games, when there were four diving events. In Athens, there were twice as many.

Because of IOC rules limiting the number of spots for each country, the United States wasn't able to bring its specialists in every event.

USA Diving used a new selection format this year, picking the synchro teams first. The top two divers in each individual event weren't necessarily guaranteed a spot on the Olympic team as in previous years.

"We were under some of the most difficult constrictions ever on selection procedures," said Bertram, adding that USA Diving believed its best medal hopes were in synchro because only eight countries competed in those events.

Troy and Justin Dumais were second going into the final round of the synchro springboard competition. China's duo was first, but amazingly scored zero points, leaving the door open for the brothers. But they missed their tandem dive and wound up sixth.

"It was one fluke dive here and there that cost us," said Jeff Shaffer, who coaches Garcia. "Justin and Troy were right there to win the gold. It just didn't work out."

Prandi finished third on the platform at the U.S. trials, which wouldn't have been good enough to qualify in past years. He made it this time by being on the synchronized team, pairing with Mark Ruiz to finish last off the tower.

The United States was once the world's diving superpower, winning 41 of the 62 gold medals available between 1904 - when the sport made its Olympic debut at St. Louis - and the 1976 Montreal Games.

The balance of power began shifting in the 1980s, despite the brilliance of Greg Louganis.

Shaffer isn't sure where to lay the blame.

"We need to find a way to compete up to the level that they always have at these meets. Honestly, I don't think it's a lack of ability," he said. "Maybe it's just discipline, maybe we just need to be a little more dedicated to being better today than we were yesterday. We don't need to get excited about getting 8s, when a little correction can make it a 9."

Five divers on the 11-member U.S. team - Wilkinson, Soldati, the Dumais brothers and Wilcock - train together with coach Ken Armstrong at The Woodlands complex near Houston.

But the United States still lacks the financial backing of countries such as China, where government support allows athletes to focus on their performances - not putting meals on the table and paying bills.

"It's difficult times when it comes to supporting our athletes in the U.S.," said Bertram, a former elite diver. "We're a small sport. The funding for these kids is key. My hope is that we can find ways to again make these kids' daily training conducive to success, and that means more financial support."

Rachelle Kunkel, who finished ninth on 3-meter springboard, sandwiches her training around a 36-hour-a-week job as a labor and delivery nurse. She has no sponsors.

China could win its sixth diving gold of the Athens Games in men's 10-meter platform Saturday.

"When China selects their team, sometimes they leave their gold medalists home," Shaffer said. "They want to bring in younger divers, but our system doesn't allow it."

Teenagers Thomas Finchum and Brittany Viola were left off the team, despite finishing second in their events at the trials.

"It would have been good to have them here," Shaffer said. "It would be in our best interest to really accelerate their competition schedule, so they can get as much experience as possible before 2008."

Bertram cited Finchum's emergence as proof of U.S. efforts to identify rising talent, which can take up to seven years to pay off at the Olympics.

"We're going to surprise a lot of people next time around," Bertram said.

Sporting News


posted on Aug, 28 2004 @ 08:51 AM
Right now, no one is doing it better than Americans Tim Mack and Toby Stevenson, who finished 1-2 on Friday. It was the second Olympics in a row that the gold and silver went to vaulters from the United States.

Mack cleared an Olympic record 19 feet, 6 1/2 inches on his final try.

"Going over that bar and kind of seeing it up there on the screen was pretty unbelievable," Mack said. "And, yeah, I'm thinking I should be enjoying this a little more. Don't get me wrong. I am and it's an awesome feeling, and it's going to hit. It's going to hit hard real soon."

Stevenson, wearing his trademark helmet, cleared 19-4 for the silver medal. Giuseppe Gibilisco of Italy, the 2003 world champion, earned the bronze at 19-2 1/2.

Stevenson led through most of the competition and was lying comfortably on his back, knowing the gold was his if Mack missed.

But Mack cleared the bar for a personal best. Stevenson then failed on his third and final try at 19-6, slamming his helmet into the landing pit in disgust.

He then hugged Mack, and watched as the champion took his last three attempts.

"I think myself and Tim, we've kind of opened the doors in the U.S. to vaulting high and making it fun again," Stevenson said. "We're not so stoic out there. We're out there having a great time. They can see that we're great competitors, but we're also great friends."

The colorful Stevenson got the crowd going early with his celebrations, including a shimmy-shake after making one of his early heights and playing air guitar on his pole after another.

Mack, the U.S. trials champion, missed three times at 19-8 (six meters). Stevenson and American record-holder Jeff Hartwig have cleared that height.

Four years ago in Sydney, Americans Nick Hysong and Lawrence Johnson finished 1-2 in the pole vault. But Mack and Stevenson have taken the event to, literally, new heights.

Mack grew up in Cleveland and attended little Malone College for two years before transferring to Tennessee. He has been vaulting since the eighth grade, and at 31, he finally has figured it out, to the point that his e-mail address says "goldnathens."

He is meticulous in his preparation, taking his notebook onto the track to study where to set the bar, what pole to use and other technical information. When he jumped, he talked to himself on the runway.

"Keep your posture and work your arms," he was saying.

His previous personal best was 19-4. He broke the Olympic record of 19-5 shared by three vaulters - Andre Tivontchik of Germany, Igor Trandevkov of Russia and Jean Galfione of France. All three set the mark in Atlanta in 1996.

Mack and Stevenson both cleared 19-4 on their first attempt. Stevenson began celebrating as he fell down to the mat, shaking his fists in triumph, then pointing his index fingers up because he knew he had taken the lead on fewer misses.

Americans Derek Miles and Stevenson, joined by Gibilisco, clapped in unison in support of Mack's final try.

There was a frightening moment in the competition when Russian Pavel Gerasimov failed at 18-6[, then missed the landing area, falling on his back on the hard infield surface. But Gerasimov climbed to his feet, walking away and rubbing his lower back.

"To be a pole vaulter, you have to be a little bit crazy," Gibilisco said.

Gerasimov attempted one more jump, at 18-10 1/2, but stopped midway down the runway because of the pain and withdrew from the competition.

Stevenson said the incident showed why he wears a helmet - just in case a jump goes terribly awry. He promised his parents he'd wear it when he was in high school, and he keeps wearing because he feels more secure, no matter how good he is at his craft.

Gerasimov "is a great vaulter," Stevenson said, "and look what happened to h

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