Diving isessentially the art of entering the water efficiently and gracefully, andexhibition diving is to many the most beautiful of all sports. The combinationof ability, beauty and grace that characterizes women's diving produces asymphony of coordinated motion that is a joy to behold. Yet diving can becruelly punishing.
Body coordinationand the necessity for precise execution make competitive diving one of the moredifficult skills to master. It takes at least five years of exhausting dailyworkouts to develop championship form. Once this form has been achieved, theworkouts must be continued virtually the year around to maintain it.
With therequirements for success so demanding, it is no wonder that there are only ahandful of top women divers competing today. Most are talented Californians,like Paula Jean Myers (opposite page), Ann Cooper (pages 56, 57) and JunoStover Irwin. Young Jeanne Stunyo of Detroit is a fine prospect. But far abovethem all is a small, trim-bodied, Long Beach, Calif. housewife, 24-year-oldMrs. Pat Keller McCormick (page 58), double Olympic and Pan-American Gameschampion who has won 18 national titles—more than any woman in history. In 1951and 1954 Pat made an unprecedented sweep of all five U.S. titles, from heightsof one to 10 meters. She dominates the field as no other diver ever has.
To stay at thetop, Pat McCormick practices two hours a day, makes 25,000 dives a year. Butconstant hard work and years of training by no means tell the whole story.Tension and mental anguish in competition play a big role. Like most divers,Pat is nervous at a meet. She often gags on food for days before. She spendshours with her husband Glenn, who is also her coach, planning the dives shewill use.
One slip can costa title. In 1953, for instance, Pat struck the board while doing a difficulthalf gainer with a half twist forward one and a half somersault in pikeposition, lost 55 points and the national three-meter indoor title to PaulaJean Myers.
As if thereweren't already enough strain to competitive diving, the girls always riskinjury. Hitting the board, striking the water improperly at a speed of close toa mile a minute and failing to recover under water in time to avoid bumping thebottom of the pool all take their toll. At a physical examination in 1951 aflabbergasted doctor found that many of the best divers are scarred likeprizefighters. On Pat McCormick he found a healed-over six-inch scalp wound,scars at the base of her spine, a once-cracked rib and broken finger, and bloodwelts across her collarbone from the impact of striking the water. In addition,all her upper front teeth were chipped.
Very few womenare physically fitted to take up competitive diving. Some cannot perfect theintricate timing of the many maneuvers to be made in mid-air—twists,jackknives, somersaults, gainers and the like. Others lack the straight legsand instinctively pointed toes that are so essential.
Strong abdominalmuscles, slender hips and a muscular but well-formed body characterize thechampions. Pat McCormick begins every day's practice with stomach exercises andjumping routines before going to the springboard. Many divers also have hadballet training, which helps develop poise on the board.
Strangely, manydivers are acrophobic. Pat McCormick, who dives regularly in 35-foot platformevents, is one of these and readily admits it. But if high places scare her, itdoesn't show on the judges' sheets. She has three national platform titles,will be after a fourth this year. Pat expects to continue in competitionthrough the 1956 Olympics. "Then," she says, "I will be quite happyto give up all that glittering hardware for five babies."