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Wilkinson-Soldati dealt an upset

6/10/2004

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."