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ATLANTA 1996 OLYMPICS | DIVING

July 14, 1996|LISA DILLMAN

Diving blends grace and danger like no other sport. It can even be deadly--Soviet diver Sergei Shalbashvili died in 1983 when his head hit the concrete platform. This year, the Chinese are expected to be the dominant team once again while the Americans are not favored in any event.

What We Know

The Americans, who have won at least one diving gold in every Olympics since 1920, are in danger of tumbling off a lofty pedestal; they are not favored to win any event in 1996.

The Chinese won five of a possible 12 medals at the 1992 Olympics. But there is one key absence: Women's three-meter springboard gold medalist Gao Min retired after Barcelona.

Among the men, Sun Shuwei is favored to win a second consecutive Olympic gold in the 10-meter platform event. Sun introduced three new dives at the World Cup in Atlanta last year and easily breezed to victory.

A three-way race between China's Xiong Ni and Wang Tianling and Dmitry Sautin of Russia could make the men's springboard intriguing.

What We Don't know

Nearly everywhere you look is a compelling survival story on the U.S. team. Defending Olympic champion Mark Lenzi survived burnout and a 20-month retirement to place second in the three-meter springboard at the trials, and the winner of that event was Scott Donie, who battled severe depression and had retired in mid-competition at the 1993 Olympic Festival. Two former gymnasts--Jenny Keim and Melisa Moses--survived an early youth of chronic injuries and made the springboard team.

Someone You Should Know

Fu Mingxia, world champion at 12, became a gold medalist a year later in Barcelona in the 10-meter platform by the most decisive margin in 60 years.

She was able to compete there despite the Fu Rule, an international requirement that divers be at least 14 years old in the Olympic year. The rule was passed in reaction to her early success. In Barcelona, Fu won with 461.42 points, Yelena Miroshina of Russia took second (411.63) and American Mary EllenClark won the bronze (401.91).

Something You Should Know

From 1968 to 1992, the top 12 divers reached the final after a preliminary round. This time, there is a new system. Those reaching the semifinal will be the top 18 divers from the preliminary session. Then, the top 12 semifinalists will advance to the final.

Platform

In Olympic diving, only 3-meter springboard and 10-meter platform events are held.

A. Platform: Ten meters above pool, the equivalent of diving off a three-story building.

B. Springboard: Three meters above water.

Fulcrum allows divers to vary board's spring

Pool: Maximum depth of 16' 5".

Water surface: To help divers gauge distance, a mechanical agitator ruffles the surface of the water.

Technique

The approach to a dive should be smooth and forceful setting up a controlled takeoff. A powerful spring allows extra time for precision and smoothness. Execution of a dive is judged by good technique, form and grace.

Rip entry: Last thing judges see so it greatly affects score. In head-first entry, divers land on palms of hands, creating a "hole" in water for body to "rip" through. A perfect rip entry leaves only foam, no splash.

Types Of Dives

Forward: Diver faces front of board and rotates toward water.

Reverse: Diver begins facing front but rotates back toward the board.

Inward: Diver stands on end of board, back to water and rotates in toward board.

Twist: Any dive in which the body twists.

Backward: Diver starts on end of board, back to water, and rotates away from board.

Armstand: Diver begins from handstand position on end of board; performed only from platform.

At A Glance

Number of athletes: 75 men, 75 women.

Changes since Barcelona: Backward armstand and twisting armstand dives now allowed.

Format: Top 18 divers from the preliminaries advance to the semifinals. Twelve then move on to finals.

Dates: July 26 to Aug. 2.

Location: Georgia Tech Aquatics Center.

Source: Associated Press, Atlanta Committee for the Olympic Games, Times Staff

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