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Olympic Finals, Round One and Round Two

Round One. Entering the Finals which consisted of 5 dives, Laura was in 8th place, not exactly a prime position for medal contention. However after a terrific Round One dive, Laura moved up to 5th place. 

Round Two was uneventful as none of the 5 leaders changed places. 

Round Three: Laura Makes Her Move!

Round Three witnessed a remarkable turn of events.  The start of Round Three featured Laura's favorite dive, the Reverse 2 Somersault Tuck. In the Olympic Trials, she nailed a "10" on this dive. 

Laura was nearly as good this time, getting 4 "9.5"s, 2 "9"s, and one "8.5". This terrific dive had the added blessing of putting tremendous pressure on the two Canadian divers just in front of her. These women knew an average score would not be enough to keep Laura from passing them in the hunt for 3rd or perhaps 2nd place (at this point 1st place seemed locked up by the Chinese).

You and I cannot even begin to imagine the intensity of the pressure of performing at the Olympic Games with your country and the entire world watching. I don't know how they do it, but I guess that's why they are Olympians and the rest of us aren't! At any rate, the very next diver definitely felt the pressure. Emilie Heymans from Canada narrowly missed landing flat on her tummy! With Anne's scores averaging "3", Laura's dive had beaten Anne's by 30 points which promoted her into 4th place. 

Anne Montminy, also from Canada, was up next. It could not have helped to see her countryman before her falter. Anne also turned in a very poor dive, averaging "6.5". Now Laura had passed her too!! The door was definitely opening!

Now Li Na, one of the two formidable Chinese divers, was up. Currently in second place, this slender young woman was also unable to fight the mysterious curse that affected the leaders in the 3rd Round. With her worst dive of the entire event, she averaged "6"s and allowed Laura to pass her.

Finally, Sang Xue, the leader, was up. Would she succumb to the pressure too or would step up in the clutch? She was the only woman left between Laura and the top spot. Sadly for this teenager, she did even worse than her countryman Li Na. Her dive barely averaged a "5".

So, for the remarkable Round Three, Laura averaged a "9.2" while the four women in front of her averaged a "3", a "6.5", a "6", and a "5". With this dramatic turn of events, Laura suddenly found herself in first place with two rounds to go!

Unfortunately going into Round Four, Laura had absolutely no cushion. At 394 points, the two women right behind her had 393 points. Only 1 point separated the top three women. There was zero margin for error!

Round Four: Laura Holds Serve!

Round Four was also different for Laura because now the pressure was on her to perform with the others in pursuit. She wasn't the hunter anymore. The bulls-eye was on her back now. Adding to the worry, Laura now had to perform the dive she was the least confident in, the inward 2 1/2 somersault. With the greatest pressure, she had to perform her toughest dive. How would she do?

As Laura herself put it in an interview, ""That's my trouble dive. I got up there and prayed to God. I thought I had nothing to lose, and I didn't hold anything back." She had been unsure of that 4th dive since breaking her foot in three places in March while jumping off a wooden platform onto a mat during training. "It became hard to push off, and I'm always nervous I'm too close to the tower," she explained. "But it was worth risking!"

As her coach, Kenny Armstrong, put it, "Laura has the ability to keep her mind calm while everyone else is losing theirs."

Sure enough, Laura came through in the clutch and dived very well. Her strong score helped her maintain her narrow lead despite the fact that all four divers behind her bounced back with excellent scores. 

Round Five: Laura Comes Through in the Clutch!

Now came the 5th and Final Round. Laura had to face enormous pressure since she had to jump first and set the standard for the four women to shoot for. A weak score would certainly give the women behind her a huge incentive while a good score would put the pressure back on their shoulders. Laura was 1 point ahead of the 2nd place woman and 6 points ahead of 3rd place. Again she had no margin for error. The others had faltered in the clutch. Now it was Laura's turn to show what she was made of!

As I sat biting my fingernails at home, Laura walked out on the edge of the platform and just stood there smiling to the thunderous applause. It was very clear she was an enormous crowd favorite! She seemed relaxed and in no hurry to get it over with. I have to say, Laura looked very confident up there! 

But not everyone was confident. As usual, Laura's Mom Linda had her face buried in her husband Edward's shirt. Linda Wilkinson simply could not bear to watch as her talented daughter began the dive! 

Diving a backwards 2 Twist Somersault, Laura went straight in with a minimum of splash. Coming to the surface, Laura pumped her fist with pride after her clutch dive. From what I gather, Laura is not particularly demonstrative as a rule, but I think she had every right to be excited! 

The camera quickly flashed to Linda, who heard the crowd roar and looked up with her flag waving. A smile flashed across Linda's face as she realized her daughter had made the clutch dive of her life. 

Laura's dive was strong, averaging "8.5". Now came the nerve-wracking ordeal of watching to see if any of the four women ahead of Laura could turn in the perfect dive of their lifetime to magically overtake Laura. It didn't even have to be a "10". A couple women could average "9"s and catch Laura. As world-class divers, a dive averaging a "9" was certainly within their potential! This event was not over by a long shot. 

Emilie Heymans was next up. Her dive was good, but averaged only about "7.7". She eventually finished fifth.

Then came Anne Montminy. Her excellent dive of "8.5" didn't catch Laura, but did catapult her into the 3rd place and the bronze medal. She had to be pleased with this terrific comeback. 

Now came the gifted Chinese divers. The Chinese had begun prohibitive favorites to win this event. Would either woman nail the dive of a lifetime to steal the medal from Laura in the final moment of this event? It was certainly a strong possibility. I was on the edge of my seat. Unlike Laura, Li Na was not smiling as she stood there. She was a deadly serious picture of concentration. She clearly had every intention of hitting this dive. She had to average a "9" to win the event. I squirmed at home as the announcer made it clear Li Na had indeed averaged a "9" on several dives earlier in the earlier stages of this contest. Oh, great!

Li Na nailed a lovely dive. The announcer said it was either a "9" or an "8.5". Sure enough, Li Na received 4 "9"s and 3 "8.5"s. Laura had nosed her out by a point. One point. Oh so close. Just one single point separated first and second place. Li Na had been excellent throughout the event with only one poor dive. But that's all it took. Laura was barely ahead, but it didn't matter whether it was one point or ten. Laura was still ahead. 

This margin of victory is typical at many Olympic events. These are the best athletes in the world. Their ability is so closely matched that often the margin of victory between first and second is the smallest increment imaginable. When people speak of "win by a nose", the competition at the highest levels like the Olympics immediately come to mind. Laura's event was a perfect demonstration of this axiom. One point. Two scores a half-point higher at any point in the tournament and Li Na would have been the gold medallist. Unbelievable!

The final diver, Sang Xue, had been the leader coming into the Final Round. She was considered China's best diver, but Laura had it locked up as only "10"s across the board would be sufficient. Sang Xue did well, but her "8"s were not enough.

Laura Wilkinson was the 2000 Olympic Gold Medallist!! As a result of her tremendous poise under intense pressure, today Laura had become the Champion of the World. 

I was so proud of Laura just like millions of other people were all across the world. You didn't have to be American to appreciate this magnitude of this amazing come-from-behind victory. Any person who respects excellence and decency had to be smiling at this moment. 

Not since Leslie Bush of the USA had won this event at Tokyo in 1964 had an American woman even come close to winning. Now a slender beauty with a broken foot and a big heart had come all the way from 8th place in the Final Round to win the Gold Medal by 1 point. Simply amazing.

Page Three: How did Rick Archer Get Involved with the Wilkinson Story?
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