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Wilkinson can't repeat Sydney success

8/22/2004

ATHENS, Greece -- The Chinese faltered again on the women's 10-meter platform. This time, the Australians -- not Laura Wilkinson -- took advantage.

Chantelle Newbery won Australia's first Olympic gold medal in
diving since 1924 Sunday night, easily holding off China's
Lao Lishi and Aussie teammate Loudy Tourky.

Newbery finished first with 590.31 points, prompting cheering
Aussies to wave flags and plastic kangaroos at the indoor pool.

"I'm just rapt," she said. "I just can't believe the way it
all turned out."

Lao earned silver with 576.30 points, while Tourky took bronze
with 561.66.

"This is a monumental moment for Australian diving," team
manager Julie Kent said.

Emilie Heymans of Canada, the current world champion, was fourth
with 555.03. Wilkinson, the defending Olympic champion, finished
fifth with 549.72.

"I'm a little bummed," Wilkinson said. "I thought it was
going to be like Sydney. It wasn't, but I'm OK with that."

Four years ago, Wilkinson 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.

The Aussies benefited when Lao dropped from first to fourth on
her second dive. Li Ting went from fifth at the start to third,
then dropped three places and stayed there.

Australia's only other gold medal in diving was won by Richmond
Eve at the Paris Games in men's plain high diving, the last time
that event was part of the Olympic program.

"I just think this is amazing to have two Aussies on the medal
dais," Tourky said. "This sport is usually dominated by the
Chinese."

The Australians have two Chinese on their staff, including head
coach Wang Tong Xiang.

"They are doing better and better," Lao said. "Maybe they are
learning."

Newbery finished strongly, hitting a backward pike 2½ somersault
with 1½ twists that earned the second-highest score of the
five-dive final. She climbed out of the pool, smiled and waved.

"I was very scared," she said, "but I knew that I had it in
me to do a good dive. My last dive is my best dive."

It was the 27-year-old Aussie's second medal of the Athens
Games. She and teammate Irina Lashko earned bronze in 3-meter
synchronized diving Aug. 14.

Newbery, of Melbourne, is married to Robert Newbery, who won
bronze in synchronized 10-meter platform in Athens. He watched the
final in the athletes' village because he will compete Monday in
3-meter springboard preliminaries.

The couple moved up their wedding plans so they could dive under
the same name in Athens.

Their 2½-year-old son, Jet, is staying with his grandparents in
Brisbane, but he's not far from his mother's mind.

"This morning I woke up and thought `This better be worth
it,"' she said. "I just want to get home and think about seeing
my son because I've really, really missed him. He's at the tantrum
age -- he's great."

Tourky led the third round until she couldn't hold her handstand
on the platform. She completed her dive, but was penalized two
points and dropped to third.

"Being upside down, backwards, 10 meters up, can be quite
nerve-wracking, but actually I'm happy with the way that dive
went," she said.

Wilkinson, of Spring, Texas, was 0.21 points out of a bronze
medal after three rounds, but underrotated on her fourth dive,
causing her legs to smack the water.

"I really wanted to hit that dive," she said. "I had a great
takeoff. I found my spots. I just came out a little early, but I
gave it all that I had."

Said U.S. coach Ken Armstrong, "If she comes out a little
later, she would have been where she was in Sydney."

Wilkinson then slightly overrotated on her final dive, earning
marks ranging from 6.5 to 8.0. She hugged Armstrong and smiled
weakly, realizing she would not be on the medals podium again.

Lao, a 16-year-old competing in her first Olympics, was trying to return the gold medal to China. The country had won four
straight women's platform titles until Wilkinson's stunning victory
four years ago.

"The first dive wasn't perfect, but in total it went well,"
she said.

Her 17-year-old teammate, Li, made a late push, but finished
sixth with 546.48 points. Li was especially good on her last dive,
a backward pike 2½ somersault with 1½ twists. She knifed through
the water, barely making a splash and earned marks ranging from 9.5
to 8.5 for 91.80 points -- the highest score of the final.

Sara Hildebrand of St. Paul, Minn., never moved out of 10th
place among 12 finalists, ending up with 484.77 points.

"Half of my goal was to make the final, which I did. The other
half was to make top six," said Hildebrand, who fell one spot
short of reaching the platform final in Sydney. "This time is a
lot more memorable than 2000."