YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

Atlanta 1996 Olympics / The Countdown: 33 Days to the

Brian Earley of Mission Viejo Tries to Follow His Father as an Olympian


Brian Earley's journey from the playpen to the 10-meter diving platform has seemed as natural to his family as a somersault off the springboard.

Twenty-four years ago, Earley was a diapered toddler frolicking poolside at the 1972 Olympic diving trials, oblivious to the precision being displayed in the air above him as his father, Rick, made the U.S. team as a 28-year-old platform diver.

"Brian was in a playpen on the pool deck," his mother, Conni Pomeroy, remembers.

This week at the U.S. diving trials in Indianapolis, Brian will try to follow Kelly McCormick by becoming a second-generation Olympic diver. Pat McCormick swept the springboard and platform golds in 1952 and 1956, and daughter Kelly won silver on the springboard in 1984.

"That's something that pushes me, even though I don't think of it day to day," said Brian, 24. "Now that the Olympics are this close, I think I know what my dad dealt with, trying to qualify for the Olympic team."

Earley is something of a long shot, but he is one of 21 men fighting for four Olympic berths and one of only six competing on both the springboard and platform.

His life in diving has been intertwined with his father's, first as a tiny spectator and later as prize student.

Rick Earley was his son's first coach and later guided him through an injury-marred career at USC, where Brian won NCAA titles on the platform in 1992 and 1994, despite missing all of 1993 with two cracked vertebrae. Rick Earley was the USC coach for 15 years before retiring last year to work part time with the Mission Viejo Nadadores, where Brian was training.

Their relationship seemed cemented, but last September, on the verge of his chance to follow in his father's barefoot steps, Brian left Mission Viejo for Fort Lauderdale, Fla., to train with Ron O'Brien, the former Olympic and Nadadore coach who is retiring this year.

That left Earley's father and first coach as his ex-coach.

"I sat down and talked to him about it," Brian said. "The main thing wasn't coaching. The problem was there were no senior divers there except me. That was my main concern, and he understood. When he was training for the Olympics, it was the same thing."

Brian and Janae Lautenschlager, the former Nadadore diver he married in December, left California for Fort Lauderdale in the fall.

"I think it's been good," Rick Earley said after seeing his son win a recent international meet in Madrid. "I talked to him about it a little bit and I'm glad he went. You have to go where the divers are to stay motivated."

Father and son are hardly the only divers in the relationship. Pomeroy, Brian's mother and Rick Earley's former wife, has spent the last 12 years as the diving coach at UC Irvine. Brian's sister, Wendy, was a diver at USC and now performs occasionally in commercials. A younger sister, Arika, just finished her freshman year as a diver at the University of Houston.

"My mom and dad coached me from the time I was 4 until I was maybe 13 or 14," Brian said. "From 13 to 18, I wasn't coached by my dad, which was probably pretty good because in those years kids are pretty obnoxious and I don't know how we'd be able to handle that. Then he coached me in college.

"He's the most mellow person I've met in my life, and I was one of the most intense back then. It worked out well because I'd be fired up to work out hard, and he'd calm me down."

The move to Fort Lauderdale marked the first real separation of father and son.

"Sometimes you can get in a rut, training in the same circumstances," Pomeroy said. "Sometimes you get as much as you can out of a certain coach. [Brian and his father] have a fantastic relationship. A lot of times, athletes just need different things. It was a good move just to get into a more intense environment and train with the best. It's something if you don't do, you'll never know what might have happened."

But that didn't make the move easy, Brian said.

"I always lived in California and I figured this is what I wanted to do. I decided I'd try it, because if I didn't go out I'd regret it. So we picked up everything and went."

In Fort Lauderdale, Earley trains daily with other divers who will be competing for the four Olympic berths--Dean Panaro, Kevin McMahon, Russ Bertram and Chris Mantilla.

Though platform is Earley's specialty, he has won his only national titles in synchronized diving and on the one-meter board. One-meter diving is not an Olympic event, but it gave him a competitive outlet when back and wrist injuries kept him off the platform.

At the Olympic trials, Thursday through Sunday, Earley will compete on both the three-meter springboard and the platform, which is 10 meters above the water, figuring he will have that much better a chance if someone else falters.

Only two divers will represent the United States in each event. Earley was fifth on the platform and seventh on the springboard at the national championships in April at Oxford, Ohio.

Los Angeles Times Articles