Catching up with Laura Wilkinson

Laura Wilkinson
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Laura Wilkinson pulled off one of the great stories of the Sydney 2000 Olympics, jumping from eighth place over five final-round dives to become the first U.S. woman in 36 years to win platform gold.

Wilkinson prevailed six months after breaking three middle bones in her right foot, banging it on a piece of plywood used for training. The U.S. would go 12 years before winning another Olympic diving medal.

The Texan competed in the 2004 and 2008 Olympics before retiring and giving birth to daughter Arella and son Zadok and adopting another baby, Zoe, from China in between.

She has stayed close to the sport, serving as an athlete representative for USA Diving through 2012 and doing some commentating. She won’t push her children into the sport — “Maybe they’ll be great piano players,” she says — but the opportunity will certainly be there to put those genes to use.

OlympicTalk recently caught up with Wilkinson to look back on her career and discuss what it’s like to chase three young children around.

OlympicTalk: Does your gold medal remind you of any other Olympic come-from-behind victories?

Wilkinson: When they made that movie, “Miracle,” about the 1980 hockey team [in 2004], that really resonated with me. I was nowhere near that kind of level or had that number of people watching me, but the feelings and what they went through. Being the underdog, nobody felt like I had a chance. That movie makes me nostalgic about what we went through in Sydney. Maybe it was on a smaller scale, but it was big to me.

OlympicTalk: Any other interesting stories from Sydney?

Wilkinson: My mom managed to sneak home my [medal ceremony] bouquet. You’re not supposed to take plants across borders, but my mom gave the customs border agent a sad face.

OlympicTalk: Before the Olympics, you won the 1998 Goodwill Games platform title in New York. What was it like competing at an international competition in New York?

Wilkinson: It was kind of cool and unusual, one of my first international meets where there were more sports than just diving. I got a little taste of what the Olympics would be like. It was my first time diving on live TV and that many people in the stands watching. I was still dreaming about the Olympics at that point.

I thought it was awesome to be on our home turf. We were out on Long Island, but we got to go into town and see some things.

OlympicTalk: What was the worst dive of your career?

Wilkinson: A back armstand triple tuck off the 10-meter, in ’98, right before the Goodwill Games. I started throwing my head back on a takeoff in practice, and before I knew it I landed on my stomach. After that I started closing my eyes on dives. I’d never been so lost before. It was a really scary time. I would rather take a hit, break a bone, go through some type of pain, but that dive was all-encompassing. I closed my eyes [diving] for years after that. I finally admitted that to my coach [Kenny Armstrong] in 2001. We had to go back through the basics again of spotting my dives [looking for the water mid-dive to know when to kick out your feet and preparing for water entry].

OlympicTalk: Divers always have headphones on between dives. What did you listen to?

Wilkinson: It depended on what kind of mood I was in. If I was mellow, I wanted something upbeat to get me to jump around a lot. If I was nervous, something slower to calm me down. I liked Jeremy Camp, Tobymac and Natalie Grant.

OlympicTalk: What’s life like now as a mother of three?

Wilkinson: Very different. I get a little stir crazy some times. I’m not used to being at the house so much. It’s kind of a different Olympics. I call it the Momlympics [blogging about it here].

When I was diving and training full time, I still had breaks, rests, a full night’s sleep, massages and ice on things that hurt. When you’re a parent, especially with three kids under 3, there’s no down time, no rest for the weary. But it’s awesome. The rewards are way better than standing on top of a podium for a matter of seconds. They last a liftetime.

Catching up with: Bruce Jenner | Mark Henry | Shawn Johnson

Ilia Malinin wins U.S. Figure Skating Championships despite quadruple Axel miss

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One year ago, Ilia Malinin came to the U.S. Championships as, largely, a 17-year-old unknown. He finished second to Nathan Chen in 2022 and was left off the three-man Olympic team due to his inexperience, a committee decision that lit a fire in him.

After the biggest year of change in U.S. figure skating in three decades, Malinin came to this week’s nationals in San Jose, California, as the headliner across all disciplines.

Though he fell on his quadruple Axel and doubled two other planned quads in Sunday’s free skate (the most ambitious program in history), he succeeded the absent Chen as national champion.

Malinin, the world’s second-ranked male singles skater, still landed two clean quads in Friday’s short program and three more Sunday. He totaled 287.74 points and prevailed by 10.43 over two-time Olympian Jason Brown, a bridge between the Chen and Malinin eras.

“This wasn’t the skate that I wanted,” said Malinin, who was bidding to become the second man to land six quads in one program after Chen. The Virginia chalked up the flaws at least partially to putting more recent practice time into his short program, which he skated clean on Friday after errors in previous competitions.

FIGURE SKATING NATIONALS: Full Results

Brown, a 28-year-old competing for the first time since placing sixth at the Olympics, became the oldest male singles skater to finish in the top three at nationals since Jeremy Abbott won the last of his four titles in 2014. As usual, he didn’t attempt a quad but had the highest artistic score by 9.41 points.

Brown’s seven total top-three finishes at nationals tie him with Chen, Michael WeissBrian Boitano, David Jenkins and Dick Button for the second-most in men’s singles since World War II, trailing only Todd Eldredge‘s and Hayes Jenkins‘ eight.

“I’m not saying it’s super old, but I can’t train the way I used to,” Brown said after Friday’s short program. “What Ilia is doing and the way he is pushing the sport is outstanding and incredible to watch. I cannot keep up.”

Andrew Torgashev took bronze, winning the free skate with one quad and all clean jumps. Torgashev, who competed at nationals for the first time since placing fifth in 2020 at age 18, will likely round out the three-man world team.

Japan’s Shoma Uno will likely be the favorite at worlds. He won last year’s world title, when Malinin admittedly cracked under pressure in the free skate after a fourth-place short program and ended up ninth.

That was before Malinin became the first person to land a quad Axel in competition. That was before Malinin became the story of the figure skating world this fall. That was before Malinin took over the American throne from Chen, who is studying at Yale and not expected to return to competition.

Malinin’s next step is to grab another label that Chen long held: best in the world. To do that, he must be better than he was on Sunday.

“You always learn from your experiences, and there’s always still the rest of the season to come,” he said. “I just have to be prepared and prepare a little bit extra so that doesn’t happen again.”

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Mark McMorris breaks Winter X Games medals record; David Wise wins first title in 5 years

Mark McMorris
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Canadian snowboarder Mark McMorris broke his tie with American Jamie Anderson for the most Winter X Games medals across all sites, earning his 22nd medal, a slopestyle gold, in Aspen, Colorado.

On the final run of Sunday’s contest, McMorris overtook Norway’s Marcus Kleveland with back-to-back 1620s on the last two jumps. McMorris’ last three Aspen slopestyle titles were all won on his final run (2019, 2022).

“It’s something I never thought would ever come to me as a kid from Saskatchewan,” McMorris, 29, said on the broadcast. “Everything’s just been a bonus since I became a pro snowboarder.”

In a format introduced three years ago, athletes were ranked on overall impression of their best run over the course of a jam session rather than scoring individual runs.

McMorris won his record-extending seventh X Games Aspen men’s slopestyle title, one day after finishing fourth in big air.

“It just keeps getting crazier because I keep getting older,” he said. “People just keep pushing the limits, pushing the limits. Last night was such a downer, almost bums me out, like, dude, do I still have it? … To have one of those miracle wins where you do it on the last run and someone makes you push yourself, those are the best feelings.”

McMorris won slopestyle bronze medals at each of the last three Olympics and reportedly said last February that he was planning to compete through the 2026 Milan-Cortina Winter Games.

Canadian Max Parrot, the 2022 Olympic slopestyle champion, is taking this season off from competition.

Anderson, a two-time Olympic snowboard slopestyle champion, is expecting her first child.

Later Sunday, American David Wise earned his first major ski halfpipe title since repeating as Olympic champion in 2018. Wise landed back-to-back double cork 1260s to end his winning run, according to commentators.

“I wouldn’t still be out here if I didn’t think I had a chance,” Wise, 32 and now a five-time X Games Aspen champ, said on the broadcast. “I’m not going to be the guy who just keeps playing the game until everybody just begs me to stop.”

U.S. Olympian Mac Forehand won men’s ski big air with a 2160 on his last run, according to commentators. It scored a perfect 50. Olympic gold medalist Birk Ruud of Norway followed with a triple cork 2160 of his own, according to commentators, and finished third.

Canadian skier Megan Oldham added slopestyle gold to her big air title from Friday, relegating Olympic champion Mathilde Gremaud of Switzerland to silver.

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