Each day through August 4, Jeff Commings will take you back 30 years to the Olympic Games in Los Angeles, highlighting one of that day’s swimming events that continues to be a benchmark for the current culture of the sport. A full list of medalists from that day’s competition follows at the end of the article.
Feature by Jeff Commings
PHOENIX, Arizona, August 1. SWIMMING took a day off 30 years ago today at the 1984 Olympic Games, so we’ll continue our celebration of the 30th anniversary today with a look at highlights from the other three aquatic sports that took place in the McDonald’s Swim Stadium in Los Angeles.
Greg Louganis was already an international diving star by the time he took to the boards at the 1984 Olympics. At the age of 16, he won silver on the platform at the 1976 Olympics, guided by the legendary diver Sammy Lee. Louganis would have likely won double gold on the springboard and platform at the 1980 Olympics, but the boycott prevented that outcome.
After winning the 1982 world championships on springboard and platform, Louganis was the clear favorite in Los Angeles. Louganis made headlines at the 1976 Olympics by scoring the first perfect 10 in Games history, and he cemented his place in diving lore with not one, but nine scores of 10 in the springboard diving final. Five of those 10s came in the prelims, while the other four took place in finals.
Louganis won his first springboard Olympic medal by 92.10 points over China’s Tan Liangde. American Ron Merriott was third, just .99 points behind Tan.
Four days later, Louganis was equally in charge on the platform, and raised the bar to an unbelievable height with a score of 710.91. That was the first time anyone had scored more than 700 points in an official diving meet. The key dive was his final dive, a reverse 3-1/2 somersault in the tuck position, which TV commentator Cynthia Potter called “the toughest dive he can perform on the 10-meter.”
Watch Louganis break the scoring record with the history-making dive (courtesy FLIPnRIP):
Taking second to Louganis was American Bruce Kimball, beating China’s Li Kongzheng by about five points.
On the women’s side, Canada scored its only Olympic diving gold medal in history as Sylvie Bernier took down the favored Americans and Chinese with 530.70 points. Kelly McCormick and Chris Seufert managed to shut China out of the medals with their silver and bronze medal performances.
“I was really afraid when I went into this meet,” Bernier said. “I knew the two Americans and the two Chinese were going to be really tough to beat. I guess I was consistent, more consistent than they were.”
China did score a gold medal with Zhou Jihong winning the platform event with 435.51 points over Americans Michele Mitchell and Wendy Wyland. Given that Mitchell “balked on an armstand dive and Wyland missed on a reverse pike for scores of 4s” in the first round according to Swimming World Magazine’s report in the September 1984 issue, the medals were a surprise for Team USA.
“I wasn’t watching the scores,” said Mitchell. “I had my headsets blasting. I had no idea what place I was in during the whole contest.”
Those who only know of the current dominance by the Chinese in diving would be surprised that they only claimed one gold medal in Los Angeles. But it was the first time the People’s Republic of China officially appeared at the Summer Olympics after the two-decade Chinese Civil War and the political aftermath. Since the 1984 Olympics, China has won 58 Olympic diving medals, 52 of which were gold.
Though synchronized swimming had been a part of the world aquatics championships since the first edition in 1978, it didn’t become an Olympic sport until 1984. Ever since winning silver in the duet at the 1982 world championships Tracie Ruiz and Candy Costie had been looking forward to showing the world their skills after years of doing well in relative obscurity.
The duo, who had been training and performing together since 1974, couldn’t have asked for a better way to kick off synchronized swimming in the Olympics. Ruiz and Costie won gold on August 9 by 1.35 points over the Canadian pair of Sharon Hambrook and Kelly Kryczka, the reigning world champions.
Here’s how Swimming World Magazine described the Americans’ and the Canadians’ final routines:
Kryczka and Hambrook timed their accurate moves precisely, garnering from their coach the highest praise. “When we came out,” Sharon shared later, “our coach said she couldn’t see one mistake. You can’t expect any more from us.”
Their efforts, which drew rousing applause from the crowd to the lively beat of “Rock Around the Clock,” ended with a flourish in the third of their routine’s dramatic lifts. The awards included a 10 from the Canadian judge plus one 9.9 and five 9.8s, earning solid applause from the packed house. Their routine total (98.2) was four-tenths higher than their prelim score, and gave them a final tally of 194.234.
Tracie and Candy were on center stage now. They showed off for the second time their “secret move,” dubbed “threading the needle,” intertwining their legs to draw appreciative applause. Then came some break dancing to Michael Jackson music and a rousing finale of “Yankee Doodle Dandy,” much to the delight of the crowd of 12,000. Their routine also got a 10 (this one from the American judge), plus sic 9.9s for a 99.000. Coupled with figures, their final total (195.584) outdistanced their chief rivals by more than a point.
The judging on the final routine left the Canadian duet, which felt their routine had been as close to perfection as possible, with some comments on the political nature of the judging. “Unfortunately I think in any sport (with judges), it is really hard to get away from politics in sports,” commented Kelly Kryczka after the finals. … Asked if the results might have been different if the meet had been conducted outside the USA, she paused then replied, “No comment.”
The solo routine was also a chance for Ruiz to show off her perfect execution, and she won gold to back up the world title she won in 1982. She scored 99.000 points, about as perfect as you can get without being perfect. Canada picked up another silver medal with Carolyn Waldo. Japan had won bronze in the duet, and Miwako Motoyoshi was part of that duet bronze medal and got one of her own in the solo routine.
Though the final of the women’s 100 freestyle was the only gold medal tie that took place in aquatic sports at the 1984 Olympics, technically another happened in the final of the men’s water polo tournament.
Regulation play between Yugoslavia and the United States ended in a 5-5 tie, but rules stipulate that there can’t be two teams standing on the gold medal podium. Using the point differential system, it was determined that Yugoslavia would get the gold medal, as they outscored their opponents 47-33 (14-point differential) through the tournament while the United States only had a nine-point differential (43-34).
From the September 1984 issue of Swimming World Magazine:
“To be very honest,” USA head coach Monte Nitzkowski said after the final game, “I’d rather lose it by a single goal than have the doggone thing end up in a tie. Right now, sitting here, I don’t feel like we won one game in the whole tournament.”
Adding insult to injury was the inconsistent refereeing throughout the tournament, according to many coaches. West Germany made quick work of the Netherlands in the bronze medal match, winning 15-2.
This American team that won the silver medal is considered by many to be the best squad fielded, with such notable names as former national coach Terry Schroeder. Schroeder competed in the 1988 and 1992 Olympics, and helped coach Team USA to a silver medal at the 2008 Olympics.
The women did not have a place in Olympic water polo until 2000, so in Los Angeles, the men remained in the spotlight.