Clark puts off her final dive with strong finish American, 33, again beats adversity, gains with Ruehl

Atlanta Olympics

July 27, 1996|By KNIGHT-RIDDER NEWS SERVICE

ATLANTA -- Mary Ellen Clark let the thought go through her mind only for an instant yesterday as she stood on the 10-meter platform at the Olympic pool and stared down at the water.

Well, this could be my last dive ever.

She was an improbable bronze medalist four years ago in Barcelona, Spain, and an even more improbable Olympic returnee for Atlanta after missing nearly a year because of vertigo. But after hitting her final dive at the U.S. diving trials to win that competition last month, anything seemed possible for the 33-year-old native of Newtown Square, Pa.

After four of five dives in the platform preliminary round yesterday, however, the possibilities were becoming rapidly limited.

Only the top 18 of the 33 divers entered would qualify for today's semifinal and final rounds. Clark should have been easily among that number, but a bad third dive was followed by a bad fourth dive. She was in 18th place as she stood on the platform at the beginning of the fifth round, with that quick thought of finality going through her head.

"I made that go away . . . because I had to make it go away," Clark said. "Ron [coach Ron O'Brien] had told me I needed a good solid dive. He didn't tell me I needed a great dive so I wouldn't get too nervous. I just wanted to be aggressive."

Clark got what she needed, a solid execution of the back dive with 1 1/2 somersaults and 2 1/2 twists. The last dive moved her from 18 to 12 in the preliminary results and assured her one more day of diving.

"It's not over until it's over," said Clark, who climbed into the stands to hug her father, Gene, who is fighting bladder cancer, after the preliminary round. "I was a little sluggish today. Hopefully, that will improve."

Needing little improvement, however, is the other U.S. representative in the platform competition, 18-year-old Becky Ruehl.

Ruehl is second after the preliminary round, having solidly hit all five opening dives. She sits directly behind defending gold medalist Fu Mingxia.

"I had no idea how I would do. I just tried to dive the same way and see what happened," said Ruehl. "I felt something pulling me toward the water headfirst."

It was a long and tedious round, but Ruehl kept her consistency and composure despite the long waits between dives. And she took advantage of the awful days that some top divers were having.

Vyninka Arlow of Australia, a bronze medalist at the 1995 World Cup; Anne Montminy of Canada, the gold medalist at the Pan-Am Games; and Russia's Svetlana Timoshinina, a Grand Prix gold medalist in 1995, all failed to survive the preliminary round.

With the field thus thinned, Ruehl, who has been criticized for an optional dive list lacking in difficult dives, has a real shot to medal in this event. Getting past Fu would be a large task, however.

"Today was probably the best she's ever done. She didn't miss anything," said Charlie Casuto, her club coach with the Cincinnati Stingrays since she was 9 years old. "I just told her to keep going. What am I going to tell her? I've never been here before."

Pub Date: 7/27/96

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