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SYDNEY 2000 / SUMMER OLYMPIC GAMES

Fu Makes a Splash in Record Books, Not Much in Pool

September 29, 2000|DIANE PUCIN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

SYDNEY, Australia — It seems as if Fu Mingxia has been around forever. She was a tiny dot on the 10-meter platform in Barcelona in 1992, a fearless 14-year-old who threw herself 33 feet into the water and landed without a splash. If you didn't have binoculars you might not have been able to see her.

Fu won her first Olympic gold medal there on the platform. She had come seemingly from nowhere, a faceless Chinese girl who scared U.S. diving officials to death. How many years would Fu dominate the sport?

The answer now is eight. Thursday at the Sydney Aquatic Center Fu established herself as one of the best ever.

With her only competition coming from 18-year-old teammate Guo Jingjing, Fu won her second Olympic springboard gold medal and the fourth Olympic gold of her career.

This ties Fu, 23, with Pat McCormick and Greg Louganis as the only divers to win four gold medals. Fu, with Guo, had also won the synchronized springboard silver medal earlier in the week. Fu's five Olympic medals are the most by any female diver.

Guo took the silver in the individual springboard, the bronze going to Germany's Doerte Lindner, a 26-year-old student diving in her first Olympics.

American's Jenny Keim, 22, of Miami and Michelle Davison, 20, of Boca Raton, Fla., had disappointing eighth- and 12th-place finishes.

Keim had been tearful earlier in the day when she and platform gold medalist Laura Wilkinson had failed to win a medal in the women's platform synchronized competition.

Nearly 11 hours later, Keim was still upset.

"It took me most of the day to get over it," she said. "I don't think I have. The hardest part was the emotional drain on me. I had a hard time feeling spunky up there."

Keim finished ninth on the springboard in the 1996 Atlanta Olympics and had hoped to leave Sydney with one medal before retiring.

The fearless Fu has become a taller, stronger, more elegant diver since Barcelona and has never left any Olympics without medals.

U.S. diving Coach Jay Lerew said that watching Fu has always been a pleasure.

"She is on a different level," he said. "She is the Baryshnikov of our sport. She has strength and flexibility and an elegance about her."

Fu had been in retirement after winning both springboard and platform gold in Atlanta. She was going to college, majoring in business. She said she had gained weight and wasn't thinking about diving.

"After two years of studies, I gradually started to get back in shape," she said through an interpreter. A friend asked, was I still capable of diving? I realized I was quite fond of diving and I shouldn't have given it up. So I started diving again and never looked back."

It is a tribute to Fu's talent that Lindner, three years older, watches videotape of Fu.

"I've been studying Fu forever," Lindner said. "I saw Fu do a 2 1/2 inward pike at a meet in Fort Lauderdale. I was watching her practice it over and over so I started watching her do that dive on videotape. I thought, 'I can do that too,' and that's how I learned it."

Lindner did the dive as her last one Thursday and scored well.

Fu was behind Guo through the first three rounds of the five-round final. But on Fu's fourth dive, a reverse 2 1/2 somersault, she scored from 8.5 to 9.5 and moved into first place.

In the final round, diving last, Fu received five 9.0 scores for her reverse 1 1/2 somersault with 2 1/2 twists. As she climbed from the water, a smile emerged, finally. Fu bowed, then hugged her coach and broke into sobs.

For two Olympics the public had seen little emotion from Fu. This time she came to compete as an adult, and adults cry.

"Eight years is a long time now that you've seen me," she said. "I was a child first. I feel I have now grown up. But I still try every day to be better. I feel you should never give up your efforts to make progress."

Two nights earlier China's Xiong Ni who had, like Fu, come out of retirement, won gold and his fifth Olympic medal.

"I was very moved by that," Fu said. "That medal for Xiong was very hard-won. I felt maybe I could be the same."

Fu said it was too early to say whether she would retire again. She said she would go back to school and think about it. She also said China had a worthy replacement.

"Every day I practice with Guo," Fu said, "and she beats me often."

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

Medal Winners

Men's Synchronized Springboard

Gold: Hailiang-Ni, China

Silver: Dobroskok-Saoutine, Russia

Bronze: Newbery-Pullar, Australia

*

Women's Springboard

Gold: Fu Mingxia, China

Silver: Guo Jingling, China

Bronze: Doerte Linder, Germany

*

Women's Synchronized Platform

Gold: Na-Xue, China

Silver: Heymans-Montminy, Canada

Bronze: Gilmore-Tourky, Australia

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