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Dumais Ruiz, Ready to Rally

Diving: Americans counting on comeback in men's springboard finals. Favored Chinese seeking first gold medal in sport at Sydney Games.


SYDNEY, Australia — Troy Dumais, the 20-year-old from Ventura who qualified for the Olympics while diving with a kidney stone, says he needs to relax when it comes to the men's springboard finals.

Dumais qualified in seventh place for the finals after a steady but pedestrian performance in the semifinals. Dumais' teammate, 21-year-old Mark Ruiz of Orlando, Fla., qualified fourth.

Xiong Ni of China, the defending gold medalist, qualified first for the semifinals with defending Olympic platform gold medalist Dmitri Sautin of Russia second and Mexico's Fernando Platas third.

Divers qualify for the finals with a combination of scores from the preliminaries and semifinals.

However, for the 12 divers who make the finals, the preliminary scores are dropped.

So going into today's final round, Sautin, who is the defending springboard world champion, has a five-point lead over another Chinese diver, Xiao Hailiang, with Platas third, Xiong fourth and Ruiz fifth. Dumais is eighth with his semifinal points.

"I wasn't at my best this morning," Dumais said. "I was a little bit tense, my muscles felt a bit tight."

Dumais said he wanted to relax more in the finals, then went and put pressure on himself.

"I feel confident," he said. "I will show the world what I can do. Watch out for my fourth dive [a reverse 3 1/2]. I'm looking forward to that one."

Ruiz says he likes coming from behind. At the U.S. Olympic trials, he went from fourth to first in the last round of dives by earning an average of 9.5 on his favorite dive--a reverse 3 1/2 somersault with a half twist.

"I don't mind being behind," Ruiz said. "I feel comfortable there. I feel like I can win it all right now. It's kind of weird how I just feel that way. I'm known for coming back. I don't worry about how other divers are doing either."

The crowd favorite in the semifinals was Platas, a 27-year-old who took time to smile at the fans waving Mexican flags and stomping their feet. Platas finished eighth in 1996 and eighth at the 1998 world championships.

"But I've been working very hard the last year," Platas said. "I think I have a chance to get a very good result here and it would be great for the sport in my country."

There is pressure on the two Chinese divers to do well. The Chinese were favorites to medal in every discipline but after three events--men's synchronized platform, women's synchronized three-meter and women's platform--the Chinese have no gold medals.

"It doesn't look like they're having any fun," Dumais said. Indeed, Xiong and Xiao were grim-faced throughout the semis.

Through an interpreter Xiong said, "Everyone wants to take gold. I'm sure the Chinese team will take the gold no matter what people are saying."

The Chinese team won three of the four gold medals in Atlanta but when they managed only silver in the women's platform Sunday night both Chinese divers were in tears.

U.S. Coach Jay Lerew, who is also Ruiz's personal coach, noticed something.

"The judges aren't 'ooh and aah' about the Chinese anymore," Lerew said.

"They are still good technically but they don't seem to jump as high."

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