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SYDNEY 2000 / SUMMER OLYMPIC GAMES

A Changed Keim Chases the Gold

September 28, 2000|DIANE PUCIN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

SYDNEY, Australia — Jenny Keim has a 3.9 grade-point average at the University of Miami. She has plans to go to law school and maybe get into politics. She has a boyfriend who loves her and a coach who makes diving fun.

Keim, 22, goes into the Olympic women's springboard final today in eighth place. Eight hours before her springboard final, Keim competed with Laura Wilkinson in the synchronized platform event.

Keim and Wilkinson finished fifth. The Chinese team of Li Na and Sang Xue dominated, scoring 345.12 points, 33.09 points more than silver medalists Emilie Heymans and Anne Montminy of Canada. The bronze medal went to the Australian pair of Rebecca Gilmore and Loudy Tourky.

Li and Sang had been devastated earlier in the week when Wilkinson had upset both of them to win the platform gold medal.

It was the Americans who were devastated after the synchro. Keim and Wilkinson were both sobbing afterward. Only Wilkinson could manage to talk. "We thought we could do a little better," Wilkinson said.

In the men's synchronized springboard competition, Ventura's Troy Dumais and his partner David Pichler of Butler, Pa., finished fourth, only 1.95 points out of the bronze.

Xiong Ni, who won his second gold of the Olympics and his partner Xiao Hailiang won the gold. Dmitry Sautin and Alexandre Dobroskok of Russia took silver with the Australian team of Robert Newberry and Dean Pullar grabbing the bronze.

Maybe Keim won't get her medal. It won't matter. Medal or not, Keim has new goals and more perspective.

This is her second Olympics. In 1996 Keim finished ninth on the springboard then went home to Miami and quit the sport because she was having so little fun and feeling so much pressure.

Three-time Olympic gold medalist Fu Mingxia of China was the top qualifier for the finals and teammate Guo Jingjing was second. Two Russians, Yulia Pakhalina and Vera Ilina, qualified third and fourth. The other American, 20-year-old Michelle Davison of Boca Raton, Fla., qualified 11th of 12 finalists.

Fu, 23, won the 1992 Olympic platform gold before she turned 14. In 1996 Fu swept both springboard and platform gold.

Here the Chinese team used 15- and 16-year-old divers on the platform, where Wilkinson was the upset winner. Fu, who settled for silver in the springboard synchronized event, had hoped to break the Olympic diving record of Pat McCormick and Greg Louganis, who each have four golds. Now Fu aims to tie that record.

Once upon a time Keim used to think about setting records, winning golds, doing everything better than anyone else.

Her father, Steve, tells a story of when Keim was 4. She was a little gymnast in Boston, where her club was doing a fund-raiser. About 500 kids, ages 4 to 16, were trying to do as many cartwheels as possible in an hour. Big, heavy gymnastics mats were placed up against the wall to prevent injuries.

Jenny, her dad says, hit one so hard that the mat came down and buried the tot underneath. "A second later," Steve says, "Jenny popped out and kept doing cartwheels. When she was done I asked her how she was. She kept asking if she won, if she won. When I kept asking how she was she finally asked me why I was asking.

" 'Because the mat fell on you,' I told her. She hadn't even noticed. That's how focused and driven she was."

That focus and drive brought Keim to the 1996 Atlanta Games feeling pressured and unhappy. Her coach at the time, Ron O'Brien, placed high expectations on her. After planning to be the best, to challenge Fu for a gold medal, Keim left with no medal, no happiness and no self-esteem.

After a year away from diving, Keim entered the University of Miami and was coaxed back into the pool by coach Randy Ableman. Her parents, Steve and C.J., had moved to Sydney, coincidentally, for business reasons.

Keim was on her own. Her life was hers to direct. As her grade-point average rose, her love of diving returned.

"I am having much more fun this time," Keim said after the semifinals.

Keim must dive in the morning, before her springboard final, in the women's synchronized platform event with Wilkinson. Doing double duty excites Keim instead of worrying her.

She thinks a medal is a possibility. While some divers are saying that this new event, synchro, is a cheap way to get an Olympic medal--that's the feeling of Ventura's Troy Dumais, who will compete in the men's springboard synchronized event with David Pichler--Keim takes a different view.

"I don't care how I get it, as long as I can get an Olympic medal," Keim said. "I can still say I'm an Olympic gold medalist. No one else knows."

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

MEDAL WINNERS

SYNCHRONIZED DIVING

Gold: Li Na, Sang Xue, China

Silver: Emilie Heymans, Anne Montminy, Canada

Bronze: Rebecca Gilmore, Loudy Tourky, Australia

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