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ATLANTA 1996 OLYMPICS

Tan Becomes the Biggest Flop in Springboard

Diving: World champion ousted, but Americans Moses and Keim advance.

July 31, 1996|LISA DILLMAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

ATLANTA — How can one of the best divers in the world look like one of your buddies launching off a springboard at a company picnic?

China's Tan Shuping, reigning world champion on the women's three-meter springboard, flopped miserably in Tuesday's preliminaries at the Olympics and landed right out of the competition.

Instead of going for gold tonight against countrywoman Fu Mingxia, Russia's Vera Ilyina and 14-year-old prodigy Anna Lindberg of Sweden, Tan is already on the sideline with the likes of last-place Daphne Hernandez of Costa Rica, who had problems hitting any dive.

Hernandez was in 30th place, and the 19-year-old Tan wasn't much better, placing 23rd. The top 18 advanced to today's semifinals, and both Americans Melisa Moses, sixth, and Jenny Keim, ninth, made the first cut.

Leading after the five optional dives was Ilyina with 308.88 points. Lindberg, whose mother and coach, Ulrika Knape-Lindberg, was an Olympic platform gold medalist in 1972, trailed by 16.86 points. In third place was Olena Zhupyna of Ukraine, and fourth was Fu, who won the platform on Saturday night.

Disaster didn't hit Tan until the third round, when she tried the dangerous forward 3 1/2 somersault from a pike position. That dive, with a 3.1 degree of difficulty, did her in. She practically belly-flopped, dropping from third to 25th. Tan's scores looked like the percentage of summer rain in Death Valley--several 0.5's and a 1.0 from a sympathetic judge. Her total for the dive was 4.65.

The field was so unimpressive that Tan could have found redemption. But her fifth and final dive--a reverse 2 1/2 somersault from a pike position--went hopelessly awry. She left the board early and fell back on her entry, earning a total of 25.20 and finished with 212.49 points, 96.39 behind the leader.

Tan, who was supposed to be the successor to the vaunted Gao Min, was not available for comment and her shaken and dismayed coach, Zhang Guangren, refused to speak to an interpreter. Previously, Tan had said, "We're strong because we work harder than everyone else."

Luck would have been nice too.

The Americans were stunned by her miscues, realizing the door had opened a bit.

"I didn't think the opening round would be this bad," said Moses' coach, Allen Spreen. "I've never seen Tan Shuping dive like that. I really don't know--their system is so structured. The first was just a slip--simple as that. She normally doesn't miss twice."

Said Moses: "I would have never expected it. . . . I think the crowd kind of got to them tonight."

The crowd at the Georgia Tech Aquatic Center helped pull along Keim and Moses. Keim, 18, has been suffering from a sore back, and Moses, 24, missed two weeks of practice because of a pulled groin. She was only able to complete her full list of dives at practice on Sunday.

This is the first Olympics for both American divers, but Moses didn't let the tension bother her, smiling on the springboard and on the pool deck. The only problem was that her groin tightened because there was so much time between dives. An eight-minute computer malfunction that halted the competition didn't help her either.

Despite the missed dives and chaos, Spreen said he fully expected Moses to reach the semifinals.

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