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Diving is essentially the art of entering the water efficiently and gracefully, and exhibition diving is to many the most beautiful of all sports. The combination of ability, beauty and grace that characterizes women's diving produces a symphony of coordinated motion that is a joy to behold. Yet diving can be cruelly punishing.
Body coordination and the necessity for precise execution make competitive diving one of the more difficult skills to master. It takes at least five years of exhausting daily workouts to develop championship form. Once this form has been achieved, the workouts must be continued virtually the year around to maintain it.
With the requirements for success so demanding, it is no wonder that there are only a handful of top women divers competing today. Most are talented Californians, like Paula Jean Myers (opposite page), Ann Cooper (pages 56, 57) and Juno Stover Irwin. Young Jeanne Stunyo of Detroit is a fine prospect. But far above them all is a small, trim-bodied, Long Beach, Calif. housewife, 24-year-old Mrs. Pat Keller McCormick (page 58), double Olympic and Pan-American Games champion who has won 18 national titles—more than any woman in history. In 1951 and 1954 Pat made an unprecedented sweep of all five U.S. titles, from heights of one to 10 meters. She dominates the field as no other diver ever has.
To stay at the top, Pat McCormick practices two hours a day, makes 25,000 dives a year. But constant hard work and years of training by no means tell the whole story. Tension and mental anguish in competition play a big role. Like most divers, Pat is nervous at a meet. She often gags on food for days before. She spends hours with her husband Glenn, who is also her coach, planning the dives she will use.
One slip can cost a title. In 1953, for instance, Pat struck the board while doing a difficult half gainer with a half twist forward one and a half somersault in pike position, lost 55 points and the national three-meter indoor title to Paula Jean Myers.
As if there weren't already enough strain to competitive diving, the girls always risk injury. Hitting the board, striking the water improperly at a speed of close to a mile a minute and failing to recover under water in time to avoid bumping the bottom of the pool all take their toll. At a physical examination in 1951 a flabbergasted doctor found that many of the best divers are scarred like prizefighters. On Pat McCormick he found a healed-over six-inch scalp wound, scars at the base of her spine, a once-cracked rib and broken finger, and blood welts across her collarbone from the impact of striking the water. In addition, all her upper front teeth were chipped.
Very few women are physically fitted to take up competitive diving. Some cannot perfect the intricate timing of the many maneuvers to be made in mid-air—twists, jackknives, somersaults, gainers and the like. Others lack the straight legs and instinctively pointed toes that are so essential.
Strong abdominal muscles, slender hips and a muscular but well-formed body characterize the champions. Pat McCormick begins every day's practice with stomach exercises and jumping routines before going to the springboard. Many divers also have had ballet training, which helps develop poise on the board.
Strangely, many divers are acrophobic. Pat McCormick, who dives regularly in 35-foot platform events, is one of these and readily admits it. But if high places scare her, it doesn't show on the judges' sheets. She has three national platform titles, will be after a fourth this year. Pat expects to continue in competition through the 1956 Olympics. "Then," she says, "I will be quite happy to give up all that glittering hardware for five babies."