Friday, August 20, 2004
American Hildebrand also advances
ATHENS, Greece -- Laura Wilkinson doesn't mind going to the
last dive with a lot on the line.
The defending Olympic gold medalist saved her best dive for the
end Friday, managing to escape the preliminaries of 10-meter
platform after muddling through most of the competition.
"I'm confident in all my dives," Wilkinson said.
"Unfortunately, it wasn't there today, but it's going to make me
come back strong."
The 26-year-old Texan was mired in 18th place -- none of her
first four dives was especially sharp -- and facing the prospect of
being eliminated from her only event of the Athens Games. Only the
top 18 moved on to Saturday's semifinals.
But Wilkinson came through on her fifth dive, a backward 2½
somersault with 1½ twists. Her spins were crisp, her entry into the
water smooth, resulting in scores of 7.5 and 8.0 across the board.
That was enough to move the American up to 13th with 314.19 points.
Wilkinson survived a smiliar scare at the U.S. Olympic trials in
June. She went to the final round with a narrow lead, but nailed
the dive to hold off Brittany Viola, the daughter of former major
league pitcher Frank Viola.
"I like some drama," Wilkinson joked.
Olena Zhupina of Ukraine led the preliminaries with 371.10 -- a
bit of a surprise considering China's domination of the sport. The
Chinese had won four straight women's platform titles until
Wilkinson's improbable victory at the 2000 Sydney Games.
Lao Lishi settled for fourth after the preliminaries with
348.93, while teammate Li Ting was seventh at 339.69. The duo
teamed up to win the synchronized platform Monday.
"They're pretty new girls, so they're feeling the pressure,"
U.S. coach Ken Armstrong said. "But they'll be tough in the
Australia's Loudy Tourky was second with 367.23, followed by
Canada's Emilie Heymans at 351.12.
Sara Hildebrand of St. Paul, Minn., who competed in the Sydney
Games under her maiden name of Reiling, also advanced to the
semifinals. She was just behind Wilkinson in 14th place with
308.49, scoring well on her last two dives to move up 10 places.
"I'm definitely an underdog," Hildebrand said. "I've never
done well on platform internationally."
Wilkinson rallied from fifth place to win gold in 2000, taking
advantage when everyone ahead of her made major mistakes. She was
the first American woman since 1964 to win the 10-meter platform.
Her victory was derided by some rivals as a fluke, inspiring
Wilkinson to return for another Olympics and prove she is one of
the world's best.
The individual platform was Wilkinson's only chance to win a
medal in Athens. She failed to qualify in synchronized platform,
finishing second at the trials while paired with Kimiko Soldati.
Wilkinson competed four years ago with bone protruding into the
sole of her foot, the result of a training accident six months
before the Olympics. She was forced to wear a kayak shoe on deck,
taking it off only when she dove, and underwent surgery right after
This time, Wilkinson was healthy and anxious to join American
Pat McCormick (1952, 1956) and China's Fu Mingxia (1992, 1996) as
back-to-back winners of the women's platform.
The field will be reduced again during the semifinals, with only
the top 12 advancing to Sunday's final.