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While Sautin, Fu Aim for History, American Teams Will Face Obstacles as They Try to Make a Big Splash

September 10, 2000|DIANE PUCIN


* OVERVIEW--Dmitry Sautin, a 26-year-old Russian who is emotional, expressive and extremely strong, is trying to become the first non-American to win both platform and springboard in the same Olympics.

Since he won platform gold in Atlanta, he has won nine of his last 11 individual competitions. Sautin missed most of 1999 after having back surgery but seemed in top form when he finished first on the springboard and second on the platform at the 2000 FINA World Cup.

He survived a stabbing in some random street violence in Moscow in 1991 and had to have wrist surgery shortly after the Atlanta Olympics.

"He is a man," America's top platform diver, Mark Ruiz, says of Sautin.

Ruiz qualified on both platform and springboard for the U.S. and hopes to be the first American double medalist since Greg Louganis. David Pichler, 32, who competed on the springboard at the 1996 Games, made it on the platform this time. Troy Dumais, 20, is the other U.S. springboard competitor.

At U.S. nationals last month in Mission Viejo, the U.S. team was in some turmoil after Pichler made public the team's unhappiness with U.S. coordinator Ron O'Brien, who was Louganis' coach. The divers were balking at O'Brien's strenuous pre-Olympic training program as well as a grueling exhibition tour that left the divers banged up and tired. Pichler has said he does not want O'Brien on the pool deck in Sydney. Team spirit will not be the U.S. theme.

* OTHERS TO WATCH--China's Tian Liang, 21, who beat Sautin on the platform at the 2000 World Cup, and countryman Zhou Yilin, 25, who won the silver medal on springboard behind Sautin at the 1998 World Championships; Mexico's Fernando Platas, who finished third on the springboard at the 2000 World Cup.

* BEST STORY--Ruiz began diving when he was 9 and living in Puerto Rico. Raised by his single mother, Rosa, he would sneak into hotel pools when his local club closed down. Nine years ago, he and his mother moved to Orlando, where Mark had dived in a junior competition. Rosa scraped to make a living so Mark could get good coaching and pool time.

Now the 21-year-old has qualified in both the platform and springboard and most likely will also dive with David Pichler in the new synchronized diving competition.

Ruiz, who used to cut in the front of the line at diving school in Orlando because he didn't understand the English protestations of the other young divers, is a nonstop talker who makes a habit of coming from behind on his last dive to reach the medal podium. That's what he did at the U.S. Olympic trials, scoring 98 points on his last dive from the platform.

He and his mother are still a team. Rosa has a beauty shop in Orlando now, and Ruiz yearns to win a medal for her. He finished seventh on the springboard and fifth on the platform at the 2000 World Cup.

* SOUTHLAND ATHLETE ON U.S. TEAM--Troy Dumais, 20, Ventura (springboard).

* KEY DATES--Sept. 26, men's springboard final; Sept. 30, men's platform final.


Fast Fact

* Sautin has the record for combined score in men's platform, 750.99, set at the 1998 World Championships. The American record is 717.41 points by Greg Louganis.

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