Americans Wilkinson, Hildenbrand advance

Updated: August 21, 2004, 1:56 PM ET
Associated Press

ATHENS, Greece -- Laura Wilkinson is in a familiar position heading into the 10-meter platform final.

The defending Olympic champion was fourth after Saturday's semifinal, needing a comeback and some mistakes by her competitors for a chance to win another medal.

It worked that way in Sydney when she rallied from fifth place to win gold, taking advantage when those ahead of her botched their dives. She was the first American since 1964 to win the 10-meter title.

This time, Wilkinson was fourth after the four-dive semifinal. Sara Hildebrand of St. Paul, Minn., was ninth.

"Remember Sydney?'' U.S. coach Ken Armstrong said. "There's nothing like being underdogs.''

Chinese teammates Lao Lishi and Li Ting were 1-2 heading into Sunday's final. The duo already won gold in the synchronized platform.

The Chinese put themselves in medal contention with a big move up in the standings. Lao was fourth after Friday's preliminaries, and Li was seventh.

"Both of our athletes are only 17 years old, so we cannot be too demanding of them,'' Chinese coach Liu Heng Lin said. "Why would I be nervous? They will try their best in the finals.''

The Chinese had won four straight women's platform titles until Wilkinson's stunning victory four years ago.

Preliminary scores were dropped after the semifinal; semifinal scores are combined with final scores to determine the final standings. Lao led 12 divers into the final with 203.04 points; Li had 198.33.

Chantelle Newbery of Australia was third with 198.30. She already won bronze on synchronized 3-meter springboard.

"I know what to expect, and I will do my best,'' Newbery said before rushing off to call her young son in Australia. "He sees me on TV and says, 'My mum is at the Olympics.' ''

Wilkinson had 194.52. Aussie Loudy Tourky was fifth. Emilie Heymans of Canada, the current world champion, was eighth. Hildebrand was ninth with 180.69.

Wilkinson consistently earned marks ranging from 8.0 to 9.5 for her four dives.

"I like all my dives,'' she said. "My favorite is probably my twister and I like to do it last.''

The toughest part, Armstrong said, was getting through the preliminaries and semifinals.

"Now she's made the finals and she can relax,'' said Armstrong, who is also Wilkinson's personal coach in Texas. "That was a great performance.''

Hildebrand struggled on her second dive, a reverse pike that earned marks ranging from 6.0 to 7.0 from the judges.

"I knew I missed it, but my favorite dive is after that, so it gave me a reason to come back,'' she said. "I don't want to miss my favorite dive.''

Hildebrand greatly improved on her last two dives, entering the water with just a small splash on her back 1 somersault with a half-twist and inward 1-somersault pike. Her marks ranged from 8.0 to 9.5.

"I really just tried to show that I was still confident after missing that second dive,'' she said.

Hildebrand missed by one spot making the platform final in Sydney.


Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press

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