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ATLANTA 1996 OLYMPICS

Diver Clark Doesn't Have the Look of Champion Out of Pool

Conduct: Bronze medalist reprimanded for not wearing official warmup suit at medal ceremony.

July 30, 1996|LISA DILLMAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

ATLANTA — American diver Mary Ellen Clark landed in more hot water for what she was wearing Saturday night on the medal stand than for what she wasn't wearing--a single thing--in a recent photo spread in Life magazine.

Call it Son of Reebok.

The conflict between corporate sponsors--evoking the Reebok-Nike squabble, in which members of the Dream Team covered the official Reebok insignia with U.S. flags on the medal stand four years ago in Barcelona--came to the forefront again after the medal ceremony for the women's 10-meter platform event at the Georgia Tech Aquatic Center.

In what she called "an honest mistake," Clark wore a Speedo warmup suit during the ceremony. Clark, 33, became the oldest woman diver to win an Olympic medal, as she took the bronze in a stirring come-from-behind performance.

"I hope the Dream Team will pardon her," said Clark's coach, Ron O'Brien.

By not wearing the official Champion warmup, issued by the U.S. Olympic Committee, Clark violated the USOC code of conduct and will receive a written reprimand from USOC Vice President Ralph Hale, according to a spokesman for U.S. Diving.

What helped Clark was her immediate show of regret, a letter of apology to Hale on Sunday. A five-member committee--chaired by USOC secretary Sandy Baldwin--convened and met Monday afternoon to discuss the Clark situation and other violations. U.S. Diving leader Micki King said the letter by Clark was "very well received."

Clark, a bronze medalist in platform diving in 1992, could have faced stiffer sanctions ranging anywhere from being denied a trip to the White House with other American athletes to losing $15,000 in Operation Gold money for her third-place finish.

Clark blamed herself for the mix-up. King pointed the finger at herself.

"I didn't even bring the warmup suit to the thing because I didn't think I was going to medal," Clark said. "It was my mistake. I've been wearing the Champion sweats in the press conference right after, as soon as I found out. My heart stopped when it all happened. It's not a very good feeling."

Said King: "I'm partly involved in this because it's one of my duties to make sure everybody is properly attired. . . . It's sort of like driving 75 when the speed limit is 65--you take a chance. You take a chance this will be a penalty. Mary Ellen didn't know she was driving 75, and the guy still pulled her over."

This was not an attempt to get publicity for Speedo, Clark said.

"They're not going, 'OK, this is great,' and all that," she said. "They're really upset with this also. If people don't know by now that I've been in this sport for 26 years with no money and it's never been about the money, then they haven't really been watching me."

Officials at Champion Sports Inc. were concerned but left the matter in the hands of the USOC. Champion, a unit of Sara Lee, paid $40 million to be the official Olympic apparel sponsor. Sara Lee's total investment in the Centennial Olympics is said to be $100 million.

That Clark even competed in the Olympics, much less took a medal, was amazing, considering she had to leave the sport in 1995 because of vertigo. She might have been discussing her incredible comeback, not clothing companies.

But Clark kept her sense of humor as she talked with reporters Monday afternoon. Someone pointed out that she was wearing a green shirt with the Champion insignia.

She laughed, saying, "I'll be wearing Champion for the rest of the Games."

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