Laura Wilkinson
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Laura Wilkinson is the diver who upset the heavily-favored Chinese divers in the 10-meter Platform Dive event at the 2000 Sydney Olympics. Before the Olympics began, a Sports Illustrated article I read gave Laura only an outside chance to medal, much less win. 

One reason SI gave Laura little chance to do well is the tremendous strength of the Chinese divers. The Chinese women had won this event 7 of the last 8 Olympics. However they did make a peculiar decision in removing the 1996 Atlanta Olympic Gold Medal winner, Fu Mingxia, from contention to put some talented, but very young teenage divers in her place. This move likely came back to haunt them as they wilted under the intense pressure of the Olympic spotlight.

The other reason SI doubted Laura had much of a chance was due to a serious injury. Laura is the 10-time US National Champion, so it wasn't like she came from "nowhere" to make the Olympic team. Although the sports world agreed that Laura is a gifted diver, her chances were downgraded due to a serious foot injury suffered during preparation for the Olympics. Laura broke 3 bones in her foot during training in March 2000 just 6 short months before the Summer Olympics. She was unable to dive for two months during her recovery. During this time Laura was reduced to using "mental imagery" of her dives as her only training tool. Indeed Laura was only able to start diving again just weeks before the US Olympic Trials. That she even qualified was a pretty impressive feat. 

Indeed, Laura never completely healed from the injury, postponing the needed surgery till after the Olympics. She was forced to wear a special shoe to climb the ladder. For that matter I noticed a couple times during the Olympics that she seemed to be limping. The pain had to be a huge distraction, but in interviews afterwards she claimed she didn't notice it. 

Last fall as I watched the Sydney Olympics in September 2000, there was a very funny film clip with NBC sports announcer Ahmad Rashad that caught my eye. The clip showed Laura standing cool as a cucumber on the edge of the platform as Ahmad laid on his belly staring at the water below. If he was faking his fear of diving, he is an impressive actor. ?This clip was where I first learned that Laura was born and raised here in Houston by her parents Ed and Linda. 

As I watched, the announcers filled in much of Laura's biography. I found that Laura trained as a gymnast until age 15 when she switched to diving. She went to Klein High School here in Houston, then moved on to dive for the University of Texas swim team. While at Texas, Laura became an 8-time NCAA All-American in diving events. 

As I write this article in May, 2001, Laura is currently back at Texas finishing up her degree as a Public Relations major. Judging from the quality of her mega-watt smile up on the platform, she is pretty good at Public Relations already!  I would say she is a natural, in fact! 

The 10-meter Platform Dive event is no cakewalk. These athletes are 3 stories up in the air!! You try diving off a cliff and it isn't likely to be any higher. One mistake and a broken rib or painful bruises all over your body makes this sport a constant test of courage. The divers make it look easy, but when amateurs are up there, they usually crawl to the edge of the diving board just to peek down. Then typically they change their minds and walk back the ladder. 

As you might gather, I am an unabashed member of the Laura Wilkinson fan club. I am a little embarrassed to say that until the Olympics, I had never heard of Laura before. Apparently diving is a low-profile sport because if anyone should know about her, I should. I read the sports page cover-to-cover on a daily basis and read every issue of Sports Illustrated religiously. Plus Laura trains in the Woodlands and dived for the University of Texas. You would assume I would have heard of her. Nope. I can tell you the last person on the bench for the Houston Rockets or the Houston Comets, but I had no clue about Laura until the Olympics. 

As you will find as you read further, I developed an unusual link to the Wilkinson family. But let's save that for later. First, let me tell you the story of Laura's victory in the Olympic 10-Meter Platform Dive!

Page Two: The Story of Laura's Olympic Victory
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