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Craig Neff
August 29, 1988
Greg Louganis starred again at the Olympic trials, which were touched by controversy
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August 29, 1988

Flying Over Troubled Waters

Greg Louganis starred again at the Olympic trials, which were touched by controversy

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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.

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 fianc�e 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 3� 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 2� 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.

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