But high-degree-of-difficulty dives are risky, especially for young teens competing in their first Olympics. Under the fierce pressure of Sunday's 10-meter finals, Chen and Miroshina fell apart, more crash than flash. "It shows we still have many shortcomings, like psychological training," Chinese coach Xu Yiming said.
Not that anyone had to apologize for the shy, 5'4" Xu Yanmei, who displayed terrific body control for someone once labeled the "least promising" gymnast at the spare-time sports school in her native Nanchang City. "I thought if I did well, they might clap for me," she said of the U.S.-heavy crowd, which responded to her splash-free, rip entries with roars of approval.
The divers had endured a rather strange week in Seoul. They had trained at the Chamshil pool amid the din of blaring Korean music, P.A.-system tests and shouts and whistles from water polo practices going on in the adjacent swimming pool. Sunday's finalists had to deal not only with a slippery platform surface—Williams sportingly lent Xu her towel to use as a mat for better footing—but also with the distracting sounds of spectator chitchat and water slurping noisily into the side drains of the pool. The most noticeable commotion came from the photographers' section whenever the 21-year-old Williams—a blonde University of Miami junior whom the July issue of Mademoiselle declared "The Great American Body"—performed. "Every time Wendy goes, it sounds like a machine gun going off from all the motor drives," said Mitchell.
As Chen got ready for the final dive of the competition, Xu and Mitchell had their medals virtually wrapped up, but Williams stood teary-eyed on the pool deck. "I figured I was going to get fourth [behind Chen]," she said later. But when Chen flopped badly on an extremely difficult back 3�, Williams cried tears of joy. Behind her in the stands, Anis Mitchell, Michele's father and a Korean War vet who had once vowed never to return to the country, joyfully waved a large U.S. flag. "It's kind of neat that by being here, I've changed his perspective on an entire region of the world," said his daughter proudly.
The final standings showed Xu first with 445.20 points, Mitchell next at 436.95 and Williams third with 400.44. Chen finished fifth and Miroshina sixth.
"I am getting very homesick now," said Xu, adding that she hoped "to go home as quickly as possible." Her American rivals, by contrast, couldn't wait to dig into the remaining two weeks of their Olympic experience—at the diving pool and elsewhere around Seoul. "I didn't train all these years just to do 16 dives and go home," said Mitchell. "This is where the fun starts. I'll be here right to the end."
"My goal is to see the best in each sport," added Williams. "I want to see that 6'8" Chinese woman basketball center, and I want to see Matt Biondi swim. I want to see the greats."
As last week's competition showed, the greats at these Olympic Games could come from anywhere.