Someday Patrick Jeffrey may be the answer to a trivia question: What little-known diver from New Jersey saved the U.S. Olympic Committee from one of the most colossal public-relations embarrassments in sports history? Jeffrey's performance in the men's platform competition at last week's Olympic diving trials in Indianapolis will be cherished by USOC officials for years to come.
The USOC's problem was that the top two finishers in each event in Indy would automatically make the U.S. team—and that meant 1984 Olympic silver medalist Bruce Kimball, free on bail, might qualify for Seoul. On Friday night, in the men's springboard competition, Greg Louganis, the still-magnificent Olympic champion, had triumphed to become the first male U.S. diver to make a fourth Olympic team, while Mark Bradshaw had earned the No. 2 spot. Kimball finished sixth.
As the second, and final, round of the men's platform competition opened Sunday afternoon, Kimball, 25, was startlingly close to an Olympic berth. He had been ripping his dives—entering the water without a splash—and stood in third place, well behind Louganis but just 4.5 points in back of Matt Scoggin.
Kimball had come to the meet free $10,000 bail following an Aug. 1 accident in Brandon, Fla. He has been charged with killing two teenagers and seriously injuring three other youths by plowing his car into them on a dark, dead-end street while allegedly driving drunk. He faces arraignment on Aug. 29 in Hillsborough County, Fla., on five felony counts of driving under the influence of alcohol, charges that carry a maximum jail sentence of 45 years.
August 28, 1988
Legally, Kimball was an innocent man, untried, unconvicted and fully entitled under USOC rules to compete in the trials. To a large extent he was diving in Indy to try to pull his life together. "It's the one thing he has left to hang on to," said his father and coach, Dick, recounting the anguish and blackouts his son had gone through since the accident.
Yet Kimball's decision to compete struck many as morally offensive. It drew an outcry from Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) and prompted seven friends of the victims, including the bereaved fiancèe of one, to drive up from Brandon and silently, hauntingly, watch Kimball dive. The protesters wore pink T-shirts with REMEMBER THE VICTIMS printed on the backs.
As the final round began on Sunday, Jeffrey, a 23-year-old Ohio State graduate, was in fifth place, nearly 17 points behind Kimball. That changed quickly. Nailing one dive after the next, Jeffrey climbed rapidly to second. "I like coming from behind," he said later.
Still, going into the 10th and final round at the Indiana University Natatorium, Jeffrey, who had an extremely difficult inward 3½ tuck as his last dive, led the third-place Kimball by less than two points. Jeffrey's coach, Vince Panzano, who rarely talks to him during meets, came over. "Pop it up over the tower, grab your hands and rip the son of a bitch," Panzano instructed.
Jeffrey ripped it. He was awarded two 9.0's and five 8.5's from the seven judges, to leap 84.27 points ahead of Kimball, whose last dive would be a far easier back 2½ pike. Panzano put an arm around his diver, who stood with his eyes down as Kimball walked out on the platform. "I've seen [Kimball] take spots away from me too many times," Jeffrey said later. "I didn't want to watch it."
Kimball, one of the few divers to keep close track of the standings during competition, knew he needed virtually all perfect 10's to catch Jeffrey because of the lower degree of difficulty (D.D.) of his dive. "I think he realized that it was over," his father would say.
Kimball hit the water—splash!—just off line. Scores of 7.5 and 8.0 went up on the board, and the Florida protesters cheered for the first time all week. Kimball had not only failed to make the team, but he had also dropped to fourth.
The final scores showed Louganis first with 1,331.19 points, Jeffrey next with 1,261.71 and the late-closing Mike Wantuck third with 1,254.72. Kimball finished with 1,244.43. "This week has helped Bruce's spirits," said a subdued Dick Kimball. "But it has only delayed the inevitable. Reality is going to hit, and it's going to hit hard."
The reality at Indy was that champions would repeat—Louganis, Kelly McCormick and Michele Mitchell all duplicated their '84 trials victories—and that others would battle memorably for second place. "This is the toughest meet in the world," said Olympic coach Ron O'Brien.
The 5'9", 168-pound Louganis, 29, who had seemed vulnerable after several losses in the last year, dived with his left wrist taped because of a ganglion cyst and bone chip but still seemed to be rounding into form. He has added eight pounds of muscle since the '84 Games, and O'Brien, his coach with the Mission Bay (Fla.) Makos club, has been working with him on bracing his hands to get cleaner entries into the water and to save wear and tear on his arms and wrists.
"Greg has, unbeknownst to him, I think, a little clock in his head," said O'Brien. "Next week he'll start to do something a little better, and then the week after that, he'll do something else. That's good, because in Seoul he'll have to dive better than he did here."
Louganis wasn't the only old-timer competing in his fourth U.S. trials. Another was women's springboard winner McCormick, 28, the '84 Olympic silver medalist and free-spirited daughter of former Olympic champion Patricia McCormick. Kelly, who since the '84 Games has significantly boosted the D.D. in the dives on her list to keep pace with the world-leading Chinese, turned in the performance of her career despite a seriously strained left calf muscle, which has plagued her since February. She built a small lead (528.90 to 513.57) over University of Miami junior Wendy Williams in the preliminary round and—pumped up by between-dive sessions with her boom box in a room under the stands—blew away the field with an unofficial American-record score of 578.22 in the finals.
McCormick's 1,107.12 put her more than 76 ahead of the Dick Kimball-coached runner-up Wendy Lucero, 24, an ex-figure skater and ex-ballerina who nipped teammate Mary Fischbach for second by just .81. If Fischbach had received a score .5 higher from even one judge on almost any of her dives, she would have made the team. "It makes you wonder what one little thing you could have done better," she said.
The fight for second in men's springboard was just as tense. While Louganis was cruising to victory with rounds of 722.88 and 717.72—his best scores of the year—Makos teammate and part-time dental assistant Kent Ferguson was trying to hold off Mark Bradshaw.
On the first round of the finals, Ferguson, 25, who has spent much of the year recovering from a left shoulder dislocation suffered while competing on platform in January, dislocated the same shoulder as he hit the water on a straight inward dive. "It's out again!" he cried to team physician Dr. Ben Rubin as he climbed from the pool. Rubin hustled Ferguson into a training room and popped the shoulder back in place. Astonishingly, Ferguson was able to move his left arm without too much pain. He decided to keep diving. "It was trials," he said later. "I had to go for it."
Bradshaw, 26, who trains with Jeffrey and McCormick under Panzano, was being lifted by an enthusiastic rooting section. More than 40 friends and family members from at least six states had come to Indy, and most were wearing blue T-shirts with such identifications as BRADSHAW'S UNCLE Or BRADSHAW'S COUSIN inscribed on them. "Every time I stepped on the board I almost started laughing because they were so rowdy," Bradshaw said later. After five rounds of superb diving by both men, he still trailed Ferguson by more than 21 points.
The sixth round was Ferguson's downfall. He nicked his toes on the board on an inward 2½ pike and got scores as low as 5.0 instead of his usual 8.5's. At six feet, Ferguson is tall for a diver, and it may have cost him. "If he had been two inches shorter, he'd have made the team," said his coach, O'Brien.
Bradshaw finished with a flourish—scoring five 9.0's on his last dive—to claim second, 1,375.05 to 1,363.95. He was greeted with hugs from McCormick, Panzano and a woman in an extra-large T-shirt labeled BRADSHAW'S WIFE AND BABY. Lisa Bradshaw, who is due to give birth on Sept. 12, has helped her sometimes intense husband to stop thinking about diving 24 hours a day. "It's down to about 18," he admits.
Thinking can sometimes be a diver's downfall. Platform winner Mitchell and runner-up Williams both had to overcome psychological hang-ups to make the team. Mitchell, 26, the '84 Olympic silver medalist, began having mental and physical trouble last year with her inward 3½ tuck, one of the high-D.D. dives that had carried her to a U.S.-record score of 479.40 in 1985. The inward 3½ can be frightening—"as you do it, this is what passes the edge of the platform," says O'Brien, tapping his forehead—and for Mitchell it became a phobia that started ruining her other dives as well. Mitchell dropped the dive in mid-July and replaced it with an inward 2½ pike. The change boosted her to scores of 447.42 and 466.26 in Indy, good enough to beat Williams by 6.81.
Williams quit platform diving for six months in 1986 because, as she puts it, "It scared me to death." She reexamined her reasons for diving and came back in '87 with a have-fun attitude. (She gradually got comfortable on the platform by sunbathing on it.)
Only after Jeffrey pulled off his upset and the Kimball controversy died down on Sunday evening could the seven newly chosen U.S. Olympic divers gather for relaxed conversation and a team photo. Someone asked Louganis if he had any advice for the younger team members. "The worst part is over," Louganis said, with a gentle smile. "Qualifying for the team is just so nerve-racking. Now we can get together as a team and support each other."
None of the divers had to state the obvious: In that very real world outside of sport, the worst is not over for their friend Bruce Kimball.