Veronica Ribot-Canales, who will quite possibly be the next U.S. women's diving star, is asked to describe the way she has been treated of late by America's other divers. She pauses for effect and then screeches like a cat, hisses and claws the air.
Clearly, Ribot-Canales's decision in April '92 to switch her sports nationality from Argentina to the U.S. has not endeared her to America's other divers. She did nothing to enhance her popularity with her new colleagues at the National Diving Championships last week in Austin, Texas, where she won the three-meter event and, while finishing fifth in the 10-meter platform, gave every indication that she will be a force in that event too. "There is a lot of feeling," says Ribot-Canales, "that here is this Argentine trying to break into this American thing. But, hey, I'm working for it; I'm here to win and to enjoy the sport. The other girls could learn from me if they'd open their eyes and minds."
Mary Ellen Clark, who won the platform, admits that there is "some bad feeling" about Ribot-Canales having forsaken her home country—for which she won 12 South American titles and competed in three Olympics—to dive for the U.S. The reason for this disaffection is that the Olympics have only two women's diving events, which means that just four athletes make up any one country's team.
Ribot-Canales has never lacked for ambition. Says her coach, Randy Ableman, "She wants to be the best real bad. I think the others will like her better when they see she is totally committed to the U.S. Plus, the U.S. needs her, She doesn't want just to represent this country; she wants to get a medal."
Says Ribot-Canales, "A gold medal."
Although she was born in Buenos Aires, Ribot-Canales and her parents moved to the Bahamas when she was six. Subsequently, the family immigrated to Miami. Ribot-Canales graduated from high school there (she was Florida state high school diving champ) and went on to Boston University before transferring in her junior year to SMU, where she earned a degree in physical education. She became a U.S. citizen in September 1991 and now lives in Miami with her husband of 2½ years, Pablo.
Despite her ties to the U.S., until last August she competed for Argentina even though the country was stingy in both its financial and emotional support. Sensing that she could advance on the world stage if given more backing, she got her sports nationality changed to the U.S. and come August will be eligible to be on the U.S. national and Olympic teams. There is some question about whether Ribot-Canales will still be a factor in 1996. She is already 31, and she was the oldest woman diver in Barcelona. But she also was the only woman at the Games to qualify in the finals of both events. "I don't feel like my body looks 31, and my mind is just coming around," she says. "If I was younger, I wouldn't be this good."