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Diver, 38, Looking for Championship He Missed as Youth

Times Staff Writer

Hands outstretched and cupped to cut water without a splash, diver Marc Conte plunged into the Belmont Plaza Olympic Pool in Long Beach.

Conte, 38, a masters division age-group diver from Redondo Beach, had rehearsed this 3-meter dive in his mind a thousand times. He watched on TV as Greg Louganis performed dives like this in the Seoul Olympics.

Conte knows he is no Louganis. Yet, like the Olympic diver, Conte would be successful only if his entry did not create a splash. This dive, sort of a tuck and roll jackknife, was one he liked best.

Conte’s body sliced into the water, legs slightly over. Only a ripple of spray kicked off his back heel.

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“Nice dive,” said John White, a friend and coach at the recent practice session. “That’s an eight.

“He should be out here diving four to six hours a day,” White said. “But we have normal lives. We have jobs. This is just a hobby.”

Conte is in Australia this week pursuing the hobby in an international masters diving event.

Like other baby boomers long past their prime, he is striving to get back to his athletic roots, ones that did not take him to the top the first time around. Slow-pitch softball is the way many former high school and college baseball players, now pushing 40, try to prove that they still have it.

Conte views diving as his personal slow pitch.

The sport has always been dear to him. He grew up around pools in New York state, where his father, a high school football coach, managed several as his summer job.

“He put me on the board and basically said, ‘Jump or die,’ Conte explained. “I said, ‘OK, dad.’ ”

At 5-8 and 145 pounds, Conte, who also played football in high school, competed in college Division 3 at St. Bonaventure in New York state. Fifteen years ago, while visiting California, his car broke down in Redondo Beach. He has been here ever since.

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He went back to diving nine years ago. His hair is still as black as it was in his college days, but his weight is up to 165, a concession to his age and part-time training where full-time work is needed. The extra pounds do not appear, however, to affect his dives.

“I’m getting now what I didn’t get in college,” Conte said. “Diving is fun for me.”

The National Masters Outdoor Diving Championships, of which Conte was recently elected chairman, offers open-ended competition. At its national meet in September in Houston, the oldest competitor was 87. That gives Conte something to look forward to.

“I’ve got a 40-year career ahead of me,” he pointed out.

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Maturation has made Conte a better diver, White said. In fact, many of the divers in the masters division are former world-class performers, which makes the competition stiff.

“He has the potential to be a champion,” White, 27, an NCAA diving finalist from Wisconsin, said of Conte. “He has a finesse about him. He pays attention to detail and is very strong, a good competitor.”

Conte snapped off another in a series of dives as White spoke. This one was difficult, an inward dive layout. There was little splash on his entry.

“I never miss that one,” said Conte, back on the deck. A poster of Louganis hitting the same dive is above the desk in his office.

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Conte runs a north Redondo Beach marketing and promotions business, in addition to a full-time job with a copier company. One of his responsibilities is as race coordinator for the Redondo Beach Chamber of Commerce Super Bowl Sunday 10-K run. He is a city parks commissioner and is lobbying to build a full-sized swimming and diving complex at the Aviation Center.

He also says he has “political aspirations,” perhaps as a city councilman in 1990.

He comes across with boundless energy, eyes constantly on the move. Diving, he says, is “my therapy.”

“It’s a thrill,” he said. “You are up there on a tower. Your heart pumps. You must overcome it. It’s an exhilarating feeling.”

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In the humidity of Belmont Plaza, Conte snapped off three more dives.

“Most of what he is doing is getting over fear,” White said. “In diving, once you are in the air you don’t have time to think.

“He is like a sponge, ready to absorb all the technique and fundamentals.”

Conte specializes in 1- and 3-meter diving, but his biggest challenge comes on the 10-meter platform.

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“You’re a different breed (up there). A thrill seeker. There isn’t a ride at Magic Mountain that can scare us,” Conte said.

White offered Conte some pointers. On one of his dives he allowed his legs to go too far over. The splash sent water droplets across the pool.

Conte quickly climbed out of the water and went back up the steps to the fiberglass board. He walked to its end and bounced high into the air and then back down on the tip of the board. One more time he bounced high into the air.

A lifeguard shouted through a megaphone: “You are only allowed to bounce on the board once for each dive.”

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Conte backed off the board with some disgust on his soaking face. He performed another dive.

“Recreational swimming time,” said White from the pool’s edge. Both had paid a dollar to use the facility. “You have to put up with that when you practice in public pools.”

Conte stuck his next dive. He was taking off about once every 30 seconds now. He figures he does between 60 and 90 dives in a 1-hour workout.

“Marc shined in his diving at a Division 3 school. I think he could have dived up, maybe at a Division 1 where there is better competition,” White said. “I think Marc realizes that now and that’s why he is here.

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“His improvement in the last two years has been phenomenal. He’s made the kind of improvement that a young age group champion would make.”


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