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She Takes a Turn for the Drier : Television: Former Olympian Wendy Williams will be a commentator at the U.S. Olympic diving trials.

June 20, 1992|STEVEN HERBERT | TIMES STAFF WRITER

As planned, Wendy Lian Williams is at the U.S. Olympic diving trials in Indianapolis. But instead of wearing a swimsuit as she would have hoped, the Mission Viejo High graduate and Laguna Beach resident will be in an NBC blazer, working as an analyst and reporter on its telecasts today and tomorrow.

A 1988 bronze medalist in the 10-meter platform, Williams retired in April because of a serious neck injury. About a week later, NBC offered her a job as commentator.

"I was saying no way. I can't go to the Olympic trials," said Williams, citing emotional difficulties of being at the scene of an event she had expected to compete in. "But my manager convinced me to think about it a little harder. I knew it was great opportunity."

This will be Williams' second stint with NBC. She also worked for the network during last year's national championships, when injuries left her unable to compete.

"I was a nervous wreck because I had no experience," Williams said. "I learned diving wasn't half as nerve-racking as commentating. I trained in diving for many years, and doing something that I was not prepared for was kind of crazy."

According to Williams, she got good reviews from NBC ("Everybody seemed pretty pleased") and the divers ("A couple of them told me that I was good, so that was good to hear") and learned a lot, such as trying to cope with producers screaming in your ears during broadcasts.

"It gave me a new perspective," Williams said. "I had thought (diving) commentators were too critical. But then I was doing it, and the producer would be yelling in my ear, 'Rip it apart! Tell what's wrong with it!' "

The demands of her new job caused a dilemma for Williams, 24.

"If a friend of mine did a poor dive, the last thing I wanted to do was rip it apart," Williams said. "But I had to be professional."

And even though Williams isn't diving anymore, a good performance at the trials will mean a trip to Barcelona. She is being considered by NBC for a spot on its Olympic telecasts.

"That makes me feel pressure," Williams said. "But all this was such an incredible opportunity and something out of the blue. The fact I even have a chance to go to Barcelona would be like icing on a cake."

Despite a 1991 that was filled with medical adversity (a parasitic illness, a back injury, sprained ligaments and a bulging disk), Williams seemed to be on track to go to Barcelona as a medal contender, finishing second in the HTH Classic in March.

But Williams' career ended at the Phillips 66 National Diving Championships in April in Ann Arbor, Mich. While warming up on a springboard, she aggravated a neck injury.

A magnetic resonance imaging exam performed by her chiropractor sister Cindy in Denver revealed damage so severe that Williams would be forced to retire. A further injury would have risked paralysis.

"I was really in shock for almost a month," Williams said. "Parts of it sank in, but I felt like a zombie. All my friends said I was holding up well, but a month later, I really started losing it and felt sad and lost.

"You get used to having structure, getting up early, eating well and working out. Everything I did was geared to diving."

Williams is beginning to find substitutes for diving. She obtained tapes of diving telecasts to prepare for her work with NBC, seeking topics to discuss and questions to ask. Williams is also planning an extensive European trip, which she might follow with a trip to the Pacific region.

"I've always wanted to travel," Williams said. "It's a great way to learn about different cultures. I think I need some kind of challenge."

Once she completes her travels, Williams plans to enroll in a school for the natural healing arts.

"I want to learn about the body, message therapy and other branches of holistic medicine," Williams said. "There are important things in the mind-body connection."

Injuries almost ended Williams' career last year. But she believes her return to training and competition this year, despite its brevity, will prove to be a lifelong beneficial experience.

"I felt like I had some extra time," Williams said. "It made me so appreciative. I wouldn't trade the last year for anything. I think it will give me a lot more compassion and understanding."

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