Diving : Father's Philosophy Pays Off for O'Brien : Diver Shows Persistence, Determination in Winning 10-Meter Event

Times Staff Writer

Inscribed in elegant lettering, the sign on Ron O'Brien's office door is directly to the point. "Nothing can take the place of persistence . . . " it reads. "Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent."

It is not a coincidence that O'Brien's philosophy is reflected in that message and that his diving team, the Mission Viejo Nadadores, has produced an ever-growing string of athletes who have proved to be virtually unbeatable on the international level. Again on Sunday, the thread linking the coach's ideology with his success was too strong. Regardless of the circumstances, it simply was unable to be broken.

This time, the mentor and his pupil also happened to be father and son. That the Nadadores' victory over the Mexican national team was already secure meant little to Tim O'Brien. By this time, winning the team competition was not the issue. Persistence and determination had taken over. He was concerned with the omnipotence for which the sign on the door, just a few steps from where he was standing, was a source of inspiration.

When O'Brien ascended to the 10-meter platform for the final dive of the meet, he was trailing Jose Luis Rocha, who finished 13th in last summer's Olympic Games, 524.65 points to 449.25. O'Brien had faltered badly on his seventh dive, but determined and persistent, had recovered on his eighth and ninth. Now, it would take his best effort to pass Luis Rocha to win the individual title.

And he saved his best for last, hitting a back 1 1/2 somersault with 3 1/2 twists, one of the most difficult dives of the afternoon. The scores read: 8, 8, 9, 8.5, 8. The final results read: O'Brien 527.65, Luis Rocha 524.65.

"It was a nice Father's Day present," Ron O'Brien said.

"I wish I could've said I planned it this way," Tim said of his surprise gift.

But it could not have turned out any better had he actually planned it. In a matter of several minutes, he experienced extreme frustration, then a resurgence of emotional strength and, finally, elation. When he missed on a forward 3 1/2 somersault pike to score just 36 points (formulated by adding the judges' scores and then multiplying by a degree-of-difficulty coefficient), he grew stronger, then displayed his mental fortitude.

"He showed some determination by hitting his last three dives after missing that one," Ron O'Brien said. "It's a dive that he has to do, but this will do great things for his confidence and morale. It's a surprise that he beat two Olympians (Luis Rocha and Jorge Mondragon) and a world champion (Jesus Mena)."

Though his victory may have come as a surprise, the quality that enabled him to achieve it did not.

"Tim is a very competitive person," said teammate Dave Goodwin, who finished second for Mission Viejo and fourth overall with 506.50 points. "It's just that attitude that persevered today. He really showed a lot of composure. He didn't let it (the missed dive) bother him like it could have."

Nor did Michele Mitchell become rattled when she began the 10-meter event--her specialty--with a performance not nearly equal to one that helped her win a silver medal at the 1984 Summer Games. Though she had the lead after the first two rounds, the other three competitors were acting as if this really was a contest, which was odd, because Mitchell has consistently outdistanced her opponents recently. She also is considered the world's best woman platform diver.

"It sure started out a little slow," she said.

And while she picked up the pace on her third and fourth dives, the others, in particular teammate Wendy Williams, were doing the same. Williams impressed the judges on her fourth dive, scoring an 8, three 8.5s and a 9, and again on her fifth, getting a 7.5, two 8s, an 8.5 and another 9.

By the end of the fifth round, the two Mexican divers--Guadalupe Canseco and Estela de la Torre-- were no longer serious contenders, but Mitchell still trailed Williams, 238.20 to 224.0.

Mitchell was hardly fazed.

"I never really watch the board," she said. "There's enough distractions to think about when you're three stories up (on the platform) without worrying about the board."

But the scoreboard, not to mention the diving board, soon shifted in Mitchell's favor as she finished with three picturesque dives as Williams faded. Mitchell took an 11-point lead on her sixth dive, a forward 3 1/2 somersault pike that got her two 8s, two 8.5s and a 9.5. She increased her lead to 37 points on her next dive, a back 1 1/2 somersault with 3 1/2 twists, the hardest dive performed by any woman Sunday. She came back with an equally difficult dive, an inward 3 1/2 somersault tuck, which gave her a total of 457.40 points and an easy win. Williams was second with 401.95 points.

The Nadadores' victory in the two-day meet, 5,540.80 to 5,379.30, was the result of Mitchell's and Williams' domination. Mission Viejo, which leads the series, 5-0, won the women's springboard competition on Saturday, 920.0 to 863.45 and the platform event on Sunday, 839.35 to 685.05. The men, meanwhile, were edged by the Mexican team in both events, although they made the platform competition closer than had been expected.

"Our girls really blew them away," Ron O'Brien said. "That helped take some of the pressure off our guys and put a lot of pressure on their guys. Psychologically, that gives us an advantage. Our guys could afford not to have their best day. They didn't have to hit every dive to win."

Except on an individual basis, when Tim O'Brien decided it was time to take charge.

"I was in a position where I knew I had a chance to win," he said. "I knew the cards were on the table, and I needed a good dive to finish on."

And if someone enjoyed the comeback victory as much as O'Brien himself, it had to have been his father.

"You can't compare the feeling of seeing your son do something like that with anything," he said, smiling.

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