American diver Laura Wilkinson is set to be one of 17 aquatic contributors inducted to the International Swimming Hall of Fame in the class of 2017.
Her gold medal in the platform event at the 2000 Olympic Games was an improbable result after a foot injury kept her off the platform for several months earlier in the year. Using visualization techniques, however, she says she was able to hone her technique without actually physically doing the dives, and she rode that to the American women’s first gold medal in the platform event since the 1964 Olympics.
That Wilkinson win is 1 of just 4 women’s events not won by the Chinese diving powerhouse dating back to the 1984 Olympic Games – totaling 28 contested events.
Other members of the classs:
- Walter Poenisch (USA) – long distance swimmer
- Wu Chuanyu (CHN) – pioneer
- Zhang Xiunei (CHN) – pioneer
- Heinz Kluetmeier – photographer
- Takashi “Halo” Hirose (USA) – pool swimmer
- Osvaldo Horacio Codaro – water polo
- Dick Jochums (USA) – pool swimming coach
- Maarten van der Weijden (NED) – open water swimming
- Georges Vallerey (FRA) – pool swimmer
- Alain Bernard (FRA) – pool swimmer
Full Release, Courtesy ISHOF:
FORT LAUDERDALE – The International Swimming Hall of Fame (ISHOF) announced today that American diver, LAURA WILKINSON, will become one of seventeen (17) honorees to enter the International Swimming Hall of Fame as the Class of 2017. Wilkinson is the eleventh individual to be named for ceremonies to be held August 25-27, in Fort Lauderdale. Previously, Open water swimmer Maarten Van Der Weijden, swimmers Wu Chuanyu (CHN) and Takeshi “Halo” Hirose (USA) Georges Vallerey, Jr. (FRA), Alain Bernard (FRA), diver Zhang Xiuwei (CHN), long distance swimmer Walter Poenisch (USA), water polo player Osvaldo Codaro (ARG), coach Dick Jochums (USA) and photojournalist Heinz Kluetmeier have been announced.
Beginning with her gold medal in the 10m platform event at the 1998 Goodwill Games, Laura Wilkinson is one of the few divers in the world to claim individual gold medals at every major international diving competition during her career. In addition to winning the Goodwill Games, she won gold medals at the Olympic Games (2000), the FINA World Cup (2004) and the FINA World Championships (2005).
Laura Ann Wilkinson was born on November 17, 1977 in Houston, Texas. Inspired by the publicity surrounding Romanian gymnastic guru Béla Károlyi’s arrival to that city, in 1981, Laura fell in love with gymnastics dreamed of being in the 1996 Olympic Games. But after years of training her gymnastic career ended when a growth spurt during puberty made her too tall for the sport. Then, one day while at a swimming pool, she discovered another sport after seeing an ex-gymnast friend who had switched to diving execute an impressive dive. In spite of being told by one of her teachers that she was too old to start a new sport, at the age of 15, Laura plunged into diving anyway. She joined a local club and says she “fell in love with the sport on the first day.”
She didn’t go very far her first year, but the next year Wilkinson won her first US National Title, made the US National Team, and earned a bronze medal at the FINA World Cup in the 10m synchronized diving event, with partner Patty Armstrong. Earning a scholarship to the University of Texas Wilkinson won the NCAA 10m platform title in 1997 and 1999 and then gave up her scholarship to turn pro and train for the 2000 Olympic Games, at the Woodlands, with coach Kenny Armstrong.
Three months before the Olympic trials, she was doing a typical warmup, flip, somersault, when she landed on a block of wood and broke her right foot in three places. To fix it, doctors had to re-break everything and they also found she had stress fracture on her left foot as well. It appeared that another Olympic dream was at an end. But with a persevering heart and faith, she was not deterred by this injury. In fact, it may have helped her focus. Together, with her coach, Wilkinson embarked on a brutal training regime that included standing in a cast for six hours a day on top of the platform to practice her push-offs. As soon as the cast was removed, Wilkinson began practicing dives underwater, to avoid putting pressure on her foot. She also watched an “insane amount of video tape” and “visualized every dive” to keep her “head in the game.”
Although her foot was still not fully recovered when she started to train again three weeks before the trials, her perseverance paid off as she won the trials and qualified for her first Olympic Team.
Three months later, while wearing a protective shoe that enabled her walk up the ladder to the platform, Wilkinson battled back from eighth place and a 60-point deficit after the semifinals to record one of the biggest upsets in Olympic diving history. The turning point came in the third dive of the final round, a reverse two-and-a-half somersault, which Wilkinson performed perfectly, entering the water knife straight with barely a ripple. She went on to win over the favored Chinese diver, Li Na by a minuscule 1.7 points. Her win was the first in the 10m platform event by an American since Leslie Bush, in 1964 and the accomplishment earned her an appearance on a Wheaties’ cereal box and a finalist for the prestigious Sullivan Award as one of the nation’s outstanding athletes.
In 2004, although Laura won the World Cup she finished a disappointing fifth at the Olympic Games in Athens. But she came back the next year to win the gold medal at the FINA World Championships in Montreal. She retired after competing in her third Olympic Games in Bejing as 14 time US National Teams (1995 – 2008), a 19 -time US National Champion and one of the greatest divers of all time.
Today, Laura continues to follow her faith, is a devoted wife and mother, motivational speaker, writer, mentor and encourager. Her passion shines through her speaking as she takes her audience on a leap of faith. The lessons she has learned throughout the peaks and valleys of her diving career have given her an insightful outlook on life and have taught her how to be successful in and out of the pool.
The International Hall of Fame, established in 1965, is a not-for-profit educational organization located in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Its mission is to promote the benefits and importance of swimming as a key to fitness, good health, quality of life, and the water safety of all adults and children. It accomplishes this through operation of the International Swimming Hall of Fame, a dynamic shrine dedicated to preserving the history of swimming, the memory and recognition of the famous swimmers, divers, water polo players, synchronized swimmers and people involved in life saving activities and education whose lives and accomplishments inspire, educate, and provide role models for people around the world. For more information contact Bruce Wigo at 954-462-6536 ext. 201, or by email [email protected]