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ATLANTA 1996 OLYMPICS

Lenzi Considers Bronze Springboard to Happiness

Diving: Former gold medalist comes out of retirement to place third. Chinese win gold and silver.

July 30, 1996|LISA DILLMAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

ATLANTA — The Chinese duo of Xiong Ni and Yu Zhuocheng were seemingly flawless--round after round--in the finals of the men's three-meter springboard final on Monday at the Georgia Tech Aquatic Center.

Yet their lack of vulnerability did not unsettle either American in the field--Scott Donie or Mark Lenzi. Donie kept smiling and enjoying himself, taking in the applause and letting it embrace him. Lenzi, just happy to be here and injury-free, was in medal contention the whole night.

The most nervous guy in the building was the legendary Hobie Billingsley, who came out of retirement to coach and assist Lenzi, who came out of retirement. Billingsley visibly suffered on the sideline, grimacing and grinning with every twist and turn.

"Wasn't it exciting? It's a gas," Billingsley said.

Then there was Lenzi's final dive of the competition, the final dive of his career. It was a reverse 3 1/2 somersault tuck, with a 3.5 degree of difficulty.

Lenzi, the defending Olympic springboard champion, hit the dive brilliantly and the crowd gave him the loudest ovation of the night. Coming out of the pool, he held his hands in the air and earned a mixture of 8.5s and 9.0s from the judges. The total of 92.40 gave him a bronze behind gold medalist Xiong and silver medalist Yu. Donie finished fourth, just ahead of Russia's Dmitry Sautin, who was favored to win the springboard.

"I knew I had to hit it to get a medal," Lenzi said. "I knew Scott was right on my heels and I didn't know where Dmitry Sautin was. I didn't look at the leaderboard, so I knew it was close. And as soon as I hit it, I knew I was all right. It was probably one of the more nerve-racking dives I've ever done in my whole life."

At least Lenzi was in better shape than his coach.

"I went blank," Billingsley said. "I can't tell you. I almost wet my pants. You just sweat it out. Are you or aren't you? Then it's all done in 1 5/8 seconds. And you're holding your breath in the air. It happens so quick. We know he can handle it as well as anybody in the world."

The two Chinese divers handled the stress of the competition with aplomb. Xiong, who has a long history of second-place finishes, became the first Chinese male diver to win the springboard. He consistently received 8.0s and 8.5s from the judges, sprinkled with a few 9.0s.

"My first priority was to guarantee the Chinese wins a gold medal, but of course I am very happy I won the gold medal," Xiong said.

So, it was left to Lenzi and Donie to contend for the bronze. There was room for both of them in the medal race because of Sautin's unexpectedly shaky performance.

Lenzi and Donie dearly wanted to put forth stellar performances before the American crowd. Neither expected to be in Atlanta. A burned-out Lenzi left the sport, retiring in 1993 and returned in 1995. Donie, suffering from severe depression, also left the sport and retired from platform diving. When he returned, he decided to concentrate on the less stressful springboard event.

"I really feel I'm lucky to be alive, let alone in the Olympic finals, and diving so well," Donie said. "It's the most fun I've ever had diving. The crowd was amazing. You couldn't ask for much more. It makes me want to do it again."

Donie will compete in the nationals, and then plans to take six months off but is possibly considering another Olympic run.

Lenzi left no room for another comeback. He's going to school in September and that's it for diving. In some ways, the bronze medal meant more to him than the gold medal in Barcelona because of the injuries and obstacles in getting to Atlanta.

"Hobie and I, we called ourselves Retired Incorporated--that was our team team--and we're officially Retired Incorporated forever," Lenzi said.

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

MEDALISTS

Diving

Men's Springboard

Gold: Xiong Ni, China

Silver: Yu Zhuocheng, China

Bronze: Mark Lenzi, United States

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