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Perfect day for a plunge

Posted: Saturday August 21, 2004 6:33PM; Updated: Saturday August 21, 2004 6:33PM
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  Taking a Dive

Thanks to a comeback and some mistakes by competitors, Laura Wilkinson got a chance to win another medal.
AP
I love the smell of chlorine in the morning. Smells like 10-meter platform diving, which is a welcome slice of air-conditioned heaven on the hottest day of the Olympics. Athens turned Sahara hot today. The temperature hit 38 Celsius, which I believe is 244 degrees Fahrenheit.

Regardless, it's perfect weather for a forward 2 1/2 somersault with a twist, or an arm stand forward somersault pike. Television does not do platform diving justice. It's an amazing sport to watch in person and an interesting little subculture.

Seven international judges, all nattily dressed in similar polo shirts and shorts, sit two meters above the pool and decide your fate. In order for a diver to make a splash in the competition, they must not, in an oxymoronic twist, make much of a splash at all. Life has its own degree of difficulty (mine is a 4.3 for these two weeks) and a tenth of a point can separate fame from despair. Personally, I love the FINA Book of Rules scoring, which rates scores of 2.5 to 4.5 as "deficient" and 0.5-2.0 as "unsatisfactory." (And we always thought deficient was worse than unsatisfactory.)

The competition is remarkably quick. There is no wasted movement in the competition. The divers dip into the pool to get acclimated with the water, then walk up a long spiral stairway until they reach the top of a white platform. They wash themselves off, walk slowly to the edge, and instantly snap into a zen-like state. Jazz music is played in between dives and underwater cameras show the divers touching the bottom of the pool in a manner that is reminiscent of Daryl Hannah in Splash.

Saturday's semifinals consisted of the top 18 divers from the preliminaries. Chinese teammates Lao Lishi and Li Ting (news flash: China leads in diving!) ended 1-2 heading into Sunday's final but only 16.35 points divide first-place from eighth. Defending champion Laura Wilkinson of the U.S. moved up to fourth after a weak preliminaries. The loudest cheers of the meet were for Greece's Eftixia Pappa-Papavasilopoulou, a 28-letter dynamo who finished the competition in 17th place and did not qualify for the final.
 
  Don't Miss
Softball: Hellinkio Softball Stadium
Top-seeded U.S. meets archrival and No. 2 seed Australia. The U.S. has held opponents to a .080 batting average while leading the Olympics with a team batting average of .436.

Athletics: Men's 100 Meter Final, Olympic Stadium
Still the glamour race of the Olympic Games, even if it's a watered-down field in Greece. The Americans can sweep here, thanks to Maurice Greene, Shawn Crawford and Justin Gatlin, but watch out for Jamaican Asafa Powell, who ran a pair of 9.91s this summer and beat Greene twice. SI's Tim Layden has it: Gold: Greene. Silver: Powell. Bronze: Gatlin.

Athletics: Women's Marathon, Olympic Stadium
World record holder Paula Radcliffe (2:15:25) likes to run in the front but that's a dangerous strategy in the Athens heat. Keynans Catherine Ndebera (winner of the 2004 Boston Marathon) and Margaret Okayo (winner of the London Marathon) will try to run the Brit down.

 
  Americans To Watch
The undefeated U.S. women's basketball team plays China in its final game of the preliminary round. ... Cyclist Jennie Reed begins competition in the women's sprint, leading. ... Beach volleyball partners Dax Holdren and Stein Metzger continue on against Swiss pair Stefan Kobel and Patrick Heuscher. ... The finals of the rowing includes Americans in women's quadruple sculls, women's eight and men's eight.
 
  Greek Tragedy
Our favorite writer, the elegant Nikos Konstandaras of Kathimerni, is back again. He offers his thoughts on the recent sports scandals that have plagued his beloved country and his thoughts for a cleaner future: "But though we may be hurting now, perhaps in the end we will see the disaster as a kind of liberation in a curious and profound way. Events have shown that we should have been far more vigilant and suspicious of our athletes and their handlers than we were over the past few years. (Unfortunately, all those involved (including the news media who should have picked the bubble of seemingly effortless success) seem to be guilty of the malevolent neglect that plagues so many other spheres of Greek public life -- when we let difficult issues fester rather than take unpopular action. From reforming our social security system to trimming the red tape that suffocates most endeavors, we just let things roll at their own momentum. So now we harvest what we sowed. The skeletons crashed out of the closest just as the world arrived."
 
  Faster, Higher, Stronger
We love U.S. sprinter Shawn Crawford and not just for the 9.89 he put up Saturday in his preliminaries. The stylish runner ran his first preliminary race wearing a white sun visor backwards: "A little sun visor, you know, so my engine won't overheat," said Crawford. "It's like a supercharger with a inner cooler. This is my innercooler. So I'll be cool running down the track." Jenny Thompson became the most decorated Olympian ever when the U.S. took silver in the 4x100 medley relay. Her 11-medal total surpasses Mark Spitz and Matt Biondi. Thompson has eight golds and two silvers and one bronze. ... People Magazine ace Cynthia Wang visited SI's offices Saturday and made an interesting anatomical observation on the much-beleaguered (some would say hated) brother-and-sister mascots, Athena and Phevos. The female mascot, Athena (based on the the protectress of Athens and the goddess of wisdom) has defined breasts and feminine features and clearly comes off as a woman. But the male mascot, Phevos, the so-called Greek god of light and music, comes off as well, undefined. More important, it speaks to continued uninspired designs of Olympic mascots. Only Izzy, formally Whatizit and informally impossible to root for at the 1996 Atlanta Games, was a more horrendous and freighting selection. But give the organizers credit: The mascots are a hit among the kids.
 

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