Mary Ellen recounts the challenges she faced in
her bid to win a medal as a platform diver.
Diving is my passion, my life. I have been doing it
since I was a kid, starting out with somersaults on the
trampoline, and graduating to the springboard of our
neighborhood pool. I was taught by my dad, who had been
a diver at the University o Pennsylvania.
Later, I attended Pennsylvania State University,
where I became a platform diver. A 10-meter platform is
as high as a three-storey building. You hit the water
like a bullet. My first time on the platform, it took me
a half hour standing at he edge before I got up the
nerve to dive. I have never looked back since.
graduated, I moved to Florida to train with legendary
diving coach, Ron O'Brien. Coach O'Brien said I stood a
chance of making the US Olympic team that would compete
in the Barcelona summer games.
Training is grueling.
The impact of hitting the water at high velocity again
and again takes its toll on the body. But all the
training was wroth it. When I was named to the US
Olympic Diving team, I called back home immediately: "I
made it, Dad !"
Though I had good news, Dad had bad.
He was scheduled for open-heart surgery. My first
impulse was to skip the Olympics so I could stay with
him. Dad would not hear of it. "After all, Mare," he
reassured me, "isn't this what I got you started on ?
Through all my years of competition, one
image I kept close was that of my father bending me into
the proper dive position on the springboard when I was
Now, hugging me goodbye before I left for
Barcelona, my father said, "I'll be watching you on TV,
Mare." Dad, who had taken all seven of us children to
church every Sunday, kept a strong faith that would
sustain him through whatever lay ahead. On the plane, I
prayed and received the strong impression he would be
Soon I was faced with another dilemma. The
opening ceremonies were scheduled to take place between
8.00 pm and 1.00 am the night before my first event. I
would get only a few hours' sleep if I marched with the
other US Olympians. "We can always watch it on TV back
at the Olympic village," Coach said.
I recalled Dad's
words: "I'll be watching you on TV." I had got word he
had come through his surgery nicely and was recovering
well. It would make him very proud to see me with the
other Americans. So I marched, the only platform diver
at the ceremonies.
After the next day's competition, I
was in second place. My coach said I was "a dark horse
for a medal". the Russian and Chinese divers had been
heavily favored. At 29, I had been written off by most
people as too old to win. "Maybe you should march before
all your events," Coach joked.
But my next-to-last
dive was a disaster and plunged me into fifth place. I
had one final shot at a medal. As I stood on the
platform ready to take my last dive, I paused a bit
longer than usual. The announcement came over the
loudspeaker. "Mary Ellen Clark of the United States,
doing a backward one-and-a-half somersault with
I stepped up to the edge of the
platform and turned my back to the water. With a quick
prayer and an incredible sense of lightness, I was
airborne, arcing out over the pool, twisting and
tumbling, the Barcelona skyline flashing by. A
micro-instant later, I ripped into the water. I knew I
had nailed the dive. When I shot back to the surface,
Coach O'Brien was yelling, "Bronze, Mary Ellen, bronze
As I stood on the awards platform to accept my
medal, I knew Dad was watching. This is for you, Dad,
I thought. What an incredible feeling !