What else would new Olympians Kelly McCormick and Chris Seufert be doing in the wee hours of last Friday morning but riding up to the 16th floor of an Indianapolis hotel to visit their dear and close friends from the rock group Van (Jump) Halen? "We just wanted to tell them how their music has inspired us in our training," Seufert would say later. "We'd had a few," McCormick would add.
The two best friends had been celebrating since finishing one-two in the women's springboard competition a few hours earlier at the U.S. Olympic Diving Trials in the Indiana University Natatorium. McCormick, 24, the daughter of Olympic champion Pat McCormick, had scored more points (559.35) than any woman in springboard history, while Seufert, 27, had the third-highest point total ever (545.58). When several hulking bodyguards protecting the rock group turned them back on 16, McCormick pointed to some printing on her shirt. "Look: 'U.S. Diving'!" she yelled as the elevator doors closed. "We just had our Olympic trials" Still, no luck.
The bold, bright spirit in evidence at Indy last week may not have impressed the heavy-metal heavies, but it did carry seven U.S. divers to berths on a squad that'll vie for Olympic gold in Los Angeles next month against the highly regarded team from the People's Republic of China. "The Chinese will have all they can handle," promised Olympic diving coach Ron O'Brien, pleased with the strong, seasoned lineup he'll bring to the Games. Except for world springboard champion Megan Neyer, 22, who was a disappointing fourth in her specialty at Indy, every diver who expected to make the American team did so. Only one qualifier is younger than 20; that's 19-year-old Wendy Wyland, who's merely the world platform champion. As U.S. co-coach Dick Kimball put it, "We couldn't have asked for a better team."
Or for better trials. Even Olympic favorite Greg Louganis, 24, had his hands full: Off springboard he needed a solid final-round dive to defeat Michigan senior Ron Merriott 720.18 to 689.40, and from the 10-meter tower he just squeaked by his longtime rival Bruce Kimball, also of Michigan. "I feel like I haven't dived really well for quite a while," said Louganis, but his performances weren't off by much. It was just that Merriott, in particular, dived like never before. For his part, Kimball, Dick's technically superb son, stayed within 10 points of Louganis through nine of 10 rounds in the platform final, but Greg turned in a spectacular reverse 3½ tuck on his last dive, and wrapped up the competition 659.16 to Kimball's 619.80.
The diving of McCormick and Seufert evoked memories of past Olympic greats. McCormick's style, which emphasizes her gymnastic ability, is eerily similar to that of her mom, who won two platform and two springboard gold medals in 1952 and '56. "It's hot to think what she did," says Kelly. Yet, while growing up in Long Beach, Calif., Kelly got no coaching from her mother and refused even to watch films of Pat's performances. Kelly's coolness to comparisons between herself and her mom keeps a certain strained distance between the two. Kelly, now a 5'4", 122-pound junior at Ohio State, was a gymnast until age 15. "But I was too much of a free spirit to spend all day inside a gym," she explains.
Seufert's grace and size, meanwhile, brought back visions of 1972 springboard gold medalist Micki King Hogue, who Seufert says "was always my idol." While Hogue competed at 5'7" and 130 pounds, Seufert is 5'9" and 134. Says Kimball, who coached Hogue and Seufert at the University of Michigan, "They both have that explosive leg strength." They also share even temperaments and perseverance. Hogue, who broke her arm during the '68 Olympics and failed to win a medal, stayed around four more years for another shot; so did Seufert, a 1980 Olympian.
What Seufert and McCormick shared in Thursday's springboard finals was both friendship and grit. McCormick was a picture of control, taking the lead on the third of 10 rounds and never looking back; her seventh dive, a forward 2½ pike, earned the only three 10s of that competition. Yet what very few knew was that McCormick had nearly skipped the trials because of back pain caused by a dislocated rib. She had been unable to train properly for several months and was in traction for a week in early June. Two weeks before the trials, according to her coach, Vince Panzano, "She wanted to hang it up. I had to tell her that she's not the kind of person who quits." Even though her back still hurt, McCormick responded. "Kelly's kind of wild sometimes," says Seufert, "but she knows what she wants."
Seufert clinched her Olympic berth by nailing the two dives that had given her the most trouble: reverse twisters on which she'd been hitting her toes on the board in practice. Afterward she was teary-eyed, wishing that her father, Paul, who died in March, could have been on hand to watch. McCormick turned away from an interview to reassure her friend with a hug. "He's here," Kelly whispered. "You know that."
Two more friends took center stage in Saturday's women's platform competition. Wyland and Mission Viejo (Calif.) Nadadores teammate Michele Mitchell spun, twisted and flipped their 5'3", 110-pound bodies through eight nip-and-tuck rounds. Wyland, as usual, was unspectacular but consistent; her trampoline background has given her what she calls "a cat's sense—I always know where the pool is and I always land on my head." The 22-year-old Mitchell also showed a keen sense of direction: On every dive she ripped through the surface of the water with nary a splash. "She wasn't more than a degree off vertical in eight dives," said O'Brien, who's also Mitchell's coach at Mission Viejo. With 477.09 points, Mitchell had the highest score of any woman platform diver in U.S. history. Wyland was close behind with 456.51. "I've really learned to rip my entries, thanks to Michele," said Wyland. "And also how to jump stronger off the tower—though I still don't kaboom it like she does."
Mitchell, an aspiring lawyer, had shown her mettle twice over. In February she'd returned from surgery that corrected a complex nerve and muscle problem in her right shoulder, and in Friday's preliminaries she had survived a blown dive. "She was as calm as anybody I've ever seen go into an Olympic trials final," said O'Brien.
Neyer, in contrast, was disconsolate. She had simply been outperformed in springboard, but in platform she had fallen apart, finishing 11th among 12 finalists. She and Mitchell met in a hug of teary silence. "At that point...it had all been said," Mitchell would say later. "All you could do was hold her."
But for others, the happiness flowed. Seufert was elated that Merriott, her boyfriend, had also made the team. McCormick was one step closer to winning a bet with her mother that will give her a choice between an ocelot or a cheetah and a Porsche if she wins a gold in L.A. And Wyland had already won a bet with her mom—a day's unlimited shopping spree—just by qualifying. She met Beth Wyland with an emotional embrace just moments after her last dive. "Oh, Mom, I love you..." she said, pulling her close, "...where's the Visa card?"
"All I can say is, 'Look out, world, here we come,' " said Seufert.
McCormick was just a chip off the gold block.
Everything came up roses for pals Seufert (right) and McCormick in the springboard.
Wyland's second in the tower was a big victory for Visa.