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Olympic Sports Festival : Ferguson’s Comeback Is Springboard to Gold

Times staff Writer

Eight months after the retirement of Greg Louganis, the greatest male diver in history, the question of which American will succeed him has been answered. No one will.

Clearly, not any one diver now competing can match Louganis’ mastery of the one- and three-meter springboard and the 10-meter platform. But for divers in the U.S. Olympic Festival, the strategy is to carve out a niche in a specialty and fight off the rest.

“I think a lot of people who don’t follow diving are looking for the next Greg Louganis, and there isn’t one,” said Patrick Jeffrey of Columbus, Ohio, after earning the bronze medal in the springboard Saturday at Oklahoma City Community College.

Kent Ferguson of Boca Raton, Fla., won the gold medal, and Mark Bradshaw of Columbus took the silver. Both Jeffrey and Bradshaw are 1988 Olympians.

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“There are a lot of good divers out there every day,” Jeffrey said. “I don’t think you will see anyone dominate for the next four years. There is going to be a cat fight until the next Olympics.”

Ferguson is winning, at least on the springboard. He is an elegant diver whose fluid and flowing dives sometimes contrast with the more acrobatic but less smooth styles of others.

Ferguson began specializing in the springboard after dislocating a shoulder while diving from the platform. He never really got over the injury, and by last year’s U.S. Olympic trials, Ferguson had already planned to quit diving and enter dental school.

At the trials, he was second after the preliminary round, but on his first dive in the finals, the shoulder became dislocated again. A doctor at the pool snapped it back into place, and Ferguson continued to dive. Only two divers make the Olympic team, and he finished third.

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“After I walked out of the pool at the trials I thought that was it,” he said. “People were coming up to me and asking for my autograph, and I was thinking, ‘Why do you want it? This is worth nothing.’ ”

Months later, after undergoing surgery in September of 1988, Ferguson was back at the pool, tentatively trying his shoulder. For the second time, he put off dental school as he felt the shoulder respond.

It has reponded well. Ferguson won the springboard in a USA-USSR-China meet this year, won the U.S. Indoors and was second at the World Cup.

Ferguson, 26, has reclaimed his diving career after putting great effort into launching a modeling career. While recovering from the last injury, Ferguson found himself with little money. He tried modeling and has juggled both careers.

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At times, there are conflicts.

Ferguson arrived here last Tuesday. Wednesday, he got a phone tall from his modeling agency in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla. The agency told Ferguson to go directly to Los Angeles, where he was wanted on a casting call for a commercial. Ferguson flew to L.A. Wednesday morning and returned late Wednesday night. The first time he practiced on the board here was during warm-ups for Thursday’s preliminary rounds in the springboard.

As Louganis did before him, Ferguson hopes to make himself known both in and out of the sport.

“The divers we have out there have a lot of talent,” he said. “It’s time for us to showcase that talent to the American public.”

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In the women’s springboard competition Saturday, Wendy Lucero, who was sixth in the springboard at the 1988 Olympics, won after taking an overwhelming lead in the preliminaries.

Alison Maisch of Cherry Hill, N.J., was second, and Eileen Richitelli of Milford, Conn., was third.

Lucero’s career might have ended if not for the unforeseen kindness of a stranger. Immediately before the Seoul Games, Lucero’s mother, Shirley, was diagnosed as having breast cancer. A combination of factors convinced Lucero to retire--the mounting medical costs to her family and her feeling that it was time to move on.

“I got a different perspective on life after my mom got cancer,” Lucero said.

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Lucero intended to quit diving after the Nationals next month, but a story appeared in the Denver Post recounting her predicament. According to Lucero, someone who happened to be in Denver on business read the story and was touched. That person, whom Lucero declines to identify, is now easing the family’s financial burden.

Lucero said the support will continue, “as long as I retain my seriousness until 1992.”


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