Wilkinson-Soldati dealt an upset

Updated: June 10, 2004, 10:39 PM ET
Associated Press

ST. PETERS, Mo. -- Laura Wilkinson will have to be content with trying to defend her individual gold medal at the Athens Olympics.

Wilkinson and Kimiko Soldati were beaten by Sara Hildebrand and Cassandra Cardinell in synchronized 10-meter platform at the U.S. diving trials Thursday night.

The Wilkinson-Soldati team, formed just six months ago, earned the United States its Olympics spot with a fourth-place showing at the World Cup. But it's Hildebrand and Cardinell who will be representing the country in Athens.

"We brought the spot home for the U.S. It was our dream to go," Wilkinson said. "I just feel kind of bummed."

Hildebrand and Cardinell held a 22.95-point lead after the five preliminary dives. They increased the margin over their final five attempts, finishing with 634.29.

The Wilkinson-Soldati duo scored well on their first dive, posting scores ranging from 8.0 to 9.0. But they steadily fell behind after that, struggling to hold dives together and watching their marks for execution dip as low as 3.0.

They knew it was over after the next-to-last round, clapping for Hildebrand and Cardinell as they swam to the edge of the pool.

"They were very consistent," Soldati said. "You've got to give it to them. We wish them the best in Athens. We'll be cheering them on."

The leaders clinched it with their last dive, a back pike 2½ somersault with 1½ twists. Even before the scores went up, Hildebrand looked over at their coach, Jeff Huber, jumping up and down on the deck, then gave her partner a huge hug.

"I was kind of strangling her," Hildebrand said. "She looked at me like, 'What are you doing?' "

Wilkinson and Soldati settled for second at 600.42. Now, they'll have to rely on the individual events to get to Athens.

Wilkinson was a surprise winner of the platform gold at Sydney four years ago, knocking off the favored Chinese. She was in good position to return again, building a huge lead in the prelims.

The finals are set for Sunday.

"I'm in the same situation I was before this event," Wilkinson said. "I still need to do the job. I have to earn my spot. No one is going to give it to you."

Soldati, the oldest diver in the trials at 30, will try to earn a spot in the 3-meter springboard Saturday. She led that event after the prelims.

Cardinell and Hildebrand won the last two national titles in platform. But they had never defeated the Wilkinson-Soldati team during its brief existence.

"We knew we had the potential," said Cardinell, heading to her first Olympics. "We knew we could beat them."

This will be the second Olympics for Hildebrand, who competed under her maiden name of Reiling in Sydney.

Mark Ruiz and Kyle Prandi led after the prelims of the men's 10-meter, but they were getting a strong challenge from two teenagers.

Ruiz, who competed in three events at Sydney, teamed with Prandi to earn 336 points in the afternoon prelims. The finals were in the evening.

Right behind were 14-year-old Thomas Finchum and 15-year-old David Boudia, who received one perfect 10 for their fourth dive and finished with 330.48 points.

Finchum was barely visible atop the towering platform at the St. Peters Rec-Plex. The Indianapolis native, who just got out of eighth grade, is only 5-foot-1 and 82 pounds.

Brothers Troy and Justin Dumais, who already earned the first spots on the U.S. Olympic team in 3-meter synchro, were third at 313.38. Justin landed poorly on their fourth dive -- an inward 3½ somersault with a tuck -- but the duo came on strong with their last attempt.

Ruiz and Prandi built an early lead but faltered on their last dive. Their hands touched slightly as they were hurling themselves off the platform, which messed up their timing and caused Ruiz to cut through the water at an awkward angle.

"We can do a little better job," he said. "But we're pleased to be in the lead. Hopefully, the outcome will be the same."

Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press