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U.S. shut out for first time in 92 years

8/27/2004

ATHENS, Greece -- Caesar Garcia and Kyle Prandi failed to
advance out of the 10-meter platform preliminaries Friday and that
meant one thing: No medals for American divers, their first Olympic
shutout in 92 years.

Garcia, of Baton Rouge, La., finished 23rd with 388.77 points.
Prandi, of Strongsville, Ohio, dropped from second-place to 21st
after the second round and wound up 29th out of 33 divers with
346.53 points.

"I was feeling great coming into the contest, but it's kind of
endurance test, a little more than I expected," Garcia said.
"I'll probably be more disappointed with it years from now than I
am now."

Mathew Helm of Australia was the top qualifier with 513.06
points. Alexandre Despatie of Canada, silver medalist in 3-meter
springboard, was second with 500.55.

Defending Olympic champion Tian Liang was third with 481.47,
putting China in position to win its sixth diving gold of the
Athens Games. The other Chinese diver, Hu Jia, was sixth. Hu earned
platform silver behind Tian at the 2000 Sydney Olympics.

Bryan Nickson of Malaysia, a 14-year-old fan favorite, finished
19th, missing a spot in Saturday's semifinals by 4.17 points.

Only the top 18 divers moved on.

"The crowd was with me," said a shy Nickson, who appeared
overwhelmed by reporters' questions and barely spoke above a
whisper. "It supported me a lot, even though that made me a bit
nervous."

The United States was once the world's diving superpower,
winning 41 of the 62 gold medals available between 1904 -- when the
sport made its Olympic debut at St. Louis -- and the 1976 Montreal
Games.

The balance of power began to shift in the 1980s, despite the
brilliance of Greg Louganis, and this year's team joined the 1912
squad as the only ones that failed to win at least one Olympic
medal.

"It's disappointing. We did have high expectations," said Jeff
Shaffer, Garcia's coach. "We thought we'd be able to secure a few
medals. The talent is there. We just need to find a way to become
more consistent at these big meets."

As a last hope, Garcia and Prandi were a long shot.

Prandi finished third at the U.S. trials and wouldn't have
qualified for the Olympic team, but made it because of being on the
synchronized team. He and partner Mark Ruiz finished last in
10-meter synchro.

Prandi was a surprising second behind Tian after the American's
opening inward tuck with 3½ somersaults earned marks ranging from
9.0 to 9.5. But Prandi under-rotated on his next dive, a forward
tuck with 4½ somersaults, and his legs smacked the water. He fell
out of contention with marks of 3.5 to 5.0.

Prandi declined to talk to reporters afterward.

Garcia got as high as 10th place after two rounds, but he
botched his third dive -- an inward tuck with 3½ somersaults -- for
marks ranging from 4.5 to 6.0. That dropped him to 23rd.

Both Americans were feeling the pressure of their first
Olympics.

"As much as we try to talk to the athletes about staying within
themselves and trying to repeat what they do on a daily basis, it's
a little bit different when you get here," Shaffer said. "You're
facing the best of the best. If you look at the guys who are
contending for medals, they've all been there before."

Helm consistently earned 8.5s and 9.0s during the six rounds.
The Australians already have won one gold and three bronze diving
medals. He finished eighth on platform four years ago.

The biggest cheers belonged to Nickson, who fearlessly launched
himself off the 33-foot tower. The crowd made the most noise each
time his 4-foot-6, 66-pound body appeared at the top of the
platform.

Nickson's goal was to make the semifinals while competing during
his school break. He spent his time at the Olympics playing video
games in the athletes' village and training.

He started diving at age 8, and said his hero is the 19-year-old
Canadian Despartie.

"He reminds me a lot of myself back in 1998," Despartie said.
"He is very good and very talented."

After each dive, Nickson climbed out of the pool and bowed. The
scoreboard listed the first and last names of the youngest diver in
the Athens Games in the wrong order.