Not unlike a KO'd boxer, Louganis had doubts. He took a bus to the Chamshil pool for a long warmup and, as O'Brien described it, "was really down. Usually when he comes in he's in a pretty happy frame of mind and he's joking. But this time he was very quiet. I knew he had some question marks."
Louganis confided his thoughts to O'Brien, who reminded Louganis that he had done the reverse 2� hundreds of times without trouble. He explained the technical blunder Louganis had made—going straight up on takeoff instead of pushing out from the board—and put him through a 40-minute diving session that included three reverse 2�'s. "I landed out around the middle of the pool," Louganis jokingly said later.
The competition opened with the stands full and the mood tense. Through five rounds Louganis built up a nine-point lead on Tan, who had beaten him twice earlier this year.
Gradually the lead grew. Both Louganis and Tan were diving superbly, but Louganis looked sharper and more graceful. "The Chinese somersault faster," observed Lee. "They do gymnastics over water. Louganis does ballet."
Louganis opened a 20-point lead in Round 7 when Tan got a bit sloppy on—of all things—a reverse 2�. Louganis still led by almost 20 when it came time for his own reverse 2� in Round 9. "I figured everybody was going to be watching that ninth dive very closely," he said. "It made me a little nervous."
Louganis stood on the board waiting for the whistle to tell him it was time to dive. The crowd was silent. He rubbed his face, slapped his thighs, looked out over the water. It's at times like this, before key dives, that he reassures himself by silently saying, "No matter how I do, my mother will still love me."
Louganis strode forward and flew out from the board—well out, in no danger of hitting it on the way down. The dive was very good, and it brought him scores between 8.0 and 9.0. The arena exploded with noise. Louganis climbed out of the pool and gave teammate Mark Bradshaw a high five.
Louganis came a bit close to the board on his 10th dive, but he wrapped up his victory by acing perhaps the most difficult springboard dive, a reverse 3� tuck, on the final round. Tan was mathematically eliminated by the time he performed his last dive but still earned the silver medal with a total of 704.88 points. Louganis finished with 730.80, while bronze medalist Li Deliang of China was far back with 665.28.
"This was probably the hardest event to watch in my career because of the emotion and the uncertainty of what he would do on those last dives," said O'Brien. "He didn't have enough of a lead that I could say, 'Jump way out over the pool and play it safe.' "
It was without question the crowning performance of a brilliant career.