Russian Leads Women’s three meter springboard qualifiers; Kunkel Moves Forward for USA

ATHENS, Greece, August 25, YULIA Pakhalina from Russia led all qualifiers in the Women's 3m Springboard preliminaries, with one of the two American divers moving on to the semifinal to be held Thursday, August 26, according to reports from Athens organizers and US Diving.

The 3m Springboard silver medallist at the 2003 World Championships took the lead in the fourth round and held on to end the competition 25.71 points ahead of second placed Blythe HARTLEY (CAN) with a total of 347.04 points. HARTLEY and world champion and Sydney Games silver medallist GUO JingJing (CHN) go into the semifinal ranked second and third with 321.33 and 319.71 points respectively.

Medal contenders Vera ILYINA (RUS), Loudy TOURKY (AUS), WU Minxia (CHN), Emilie HEYMANS (CAN) and Irina LASHKO (AUS) finished fourth through eighth to qualify for the semifinal.

Interestingly, the top eight slots were taken by athletes from just four countries, as Russia, Canada, China and Austraila each had two in that top group. Russia looked strongest with first and fourth.

The top american was Rachelle Kunkel who has used her experience of working as nurse in labor and delivery to help her in her quest for gold at the Olympics.

Kunkel grew up in West Valley City, Utah, but now lives, works and trains in Los Angeles, Calif. On Wednesday afternoon, she got one step closer to possibly standing on the medal stand on Thursday night when the women’s 3-meter springboard competition comes to a close. She finished 12th in the preliminary round with 294.75 points on five dives.

“I thought I started out really strong and that was my plan,” Kunkel said. “I just wanted to be steady and do what I do in practice. Those first two dives were really important for me and they were confidence boosters.”

Competing at the Olympics can be stressful in and of itself but Kunkel relies on skills she has acquired as a nurse to control the stress in a productive manner.

“It (being a nurse and an Olympic diver) is pretty similar as far as the stress goes,” Kunkel said. “Sometimes it can be very stressful when a baby or mom is in trouble and for the most part you have to be the one that is calm on the surface and give support to the family. It is a really important as a nurse because you are the one in most contact with the patients and they rely on you for strength, faith and guidance. It is very similar to the Olympics because you feel a lot of stress here. You have to grab hold of it and just control it the best you can.”

Kunkel was very consistent on her first two dives scoring 63 on both. She faltered a little on her third dive, a reverse 2 1⁄2 somersault, which she says is either a hit or miss dive for her. She recorded only 41.40 points.

It was a tough day for Kimiko Soldati of Magnolia, Texas, who finished 21st with 252.36 points. She fell short of qualifying for the semifinal round by just short of 13 points, as only the top 18 from preliminaries advance.

Soldati, who has been plagued with injuries the majority of her career, started out a little shaky but fought back to finish strong. Since Olympic Trials in June, she has been battling a nagging shoulder injury that seemed to get worse as the Olympics drew closer.

“It (her Olympic experience) wasn’t what I pictured it or imagined it would be,” Soldati said. “It is disappointing but given the circumstances and the lack of training that I have been able to do because of my shoulder, I went out and gave it my all. I left my heart out there and didn’t leave anything behind. I never gave up throughout the competition. I am proud of that and I feel like I kept the faith. I finished the race and gave it my best shot but it just wasn’t in the cards.”

Soldati plans to start a family with her husband, Adam, and will keep the door open to returning for 2008 to show the world what she is capable of.

Kunkel will return to the pool Thursday, Aug. 26 at 12:00 for the semifinal round. Preliminary scores will be added to the semifinal scores with the top 12 advancing to the finals on Thursday night at 9:00 p.m.

August 14-28 — Athens, Greece

Women's 3-meter Preliminary
1. Yulia Pakhalina, Russia, 347.04
2. Blythe Hartley, Canada, 321.33
3. Guo Jingjing, China, 319.71
4. Vera Ilyina, Russia, 311.97
5. Loudy Tourky, Australia, 310.65
6. Wu Minxia, China, 306.96
7. Emilie Heymans, Canada, 305.04
8. Irina Lashko, Australia, 303.66
9. Paola Espinosa, Mexico, 301.14
10. Tania Cagnotto, Italy, 298,77
11. Ditte Kotzian, Germany, 295.50
12. Rachelle Kunkel, USA, 294.75
13. Olena Fedorova, Ukraine, 290.43
14. Jane Smith, Great Britain, 282.90
15. Nora Barta, Hungary, 279.24
16. Ganna Sorokina, Ukraine, 269.52
17. Jenna Dreyer, Republic of South Africa, 267.84
18. Juliana Veloso, Brazil, 265.29
19. Anna Lindberg, SWE, 255.63
20. Jashia Luna, MEX, 252.75
21. Kimiko Hirai Soldati, USA, 252.36
22. Sotiria Koutsopetrou, GRE, 250.59
23. Valentina Marocchi, ITA, 243.45
24. Leyre Eizaguirre, ESP, 242.73
25. Angelique Rodriguez, PUR, 239.19
26. Mun Yee Leong, MAS, 227.67
27. Terry Gracie Junita, MAS, 223.44
28. Tracey Richardson, GBR, 209.34
29. Ionna Cruz Talabera, CUB, 203.76.
30 Katura Horton Perinchief, GBR, 203.58
31. Heike Fischer, GER, 199.71
32. Villo Kormos, HUN, 193.68
33. Diamantina Georgatou, GRE, 157.56

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