Pat McCormick, Olympic legend and greatest U.S. female diver, dies at 92

Pat McCormick
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Pat McCormick, the lone female diver to sweep the individual springboard and platform golds at multiple Olympics, has died at age 92, according to USA Diving.

McCormick died in an assisted living home on Tuesday in Orange County, California, according to the Seal Beach Sun.

McCormick won both individual diving events at the Olympics in 1952 and 1956, doing so the second time after the birth of son Tim earlier that year.

As a young teen, McCormick would dive off the Naples Canal Bridge in Southern California, aiming to splash people on boats, which led to phone calls to the police, according to the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Museum.

In structured diving, she performed dives disallowed in women’s competition due to their perceived level of difficulty, according to the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee.

McCormick said she was motivated by missing the 1948 Olympic team by a small margin at age 18.

“From that moment on, I knew I wanted to not [only] go on to the next Olympics, but I knew I wanted to do something that no one has ever done, and that’s to try to compete in two Olympics and win the double-double,” she said.

As the 1952 Helsinki Games approached, McCormick gained more competitive drive. She said others tapped Zoe Ann Olsen, the 1948 Olympic springboard silver medalist, as the event favorite after Olsen unretired.

“That just made me furious,” McCormick said.

After winning both golds in Finland, McCormick continued her training — 100 dives per day, six days per week — and also swam a half-mile per day until two days before her son was born in 1956.

“When I first saw Pat McCormick dive, I said, oh boy, that gal will never make it,” fellow Olympic diving champion Sammy Lee said, pointing out several flaws in her technique. “But that girl, she worked so hard, and she was so determined. That’s what makes her great. She has determination, and she was one tremendous competitor.

“The only problem with Pat is if everybody dived lousy, Pat dived lousy. If everybody dived like an Olympic champion, Pat dived better. She’s got that kind of competitive instinct. She’s not going to let anybody beat her.”

As the 1956 Melbourne Games approached, McCormick juggled motherhood with Olympic prep. Her husband and coach, Glenn, also began coaching other members of the U.S. team who had come to train with them.

“It was really difficult because here I was, training for the Olympics myself,” she said. “I had a small child. I was fixing breakfast for [the other divers], and I thought to myself, ‘Hey, wait a minute. I’m the star, supposedly. Something’s got to be done about this. They should be helping me.'”

In her final Olympic event, McCormick rallied from fourth place going into the finals, the last two of five platform dives.

“I’ll never forget riding back in the bus [going into the finals], I had tears in my eyes,” she said. “The girl that was in first place was my teammate. I really had to make peace with myself, and I had to feel that whatever happened, I would be happy with the result. Well I went into the competition, and I did two of the best dives I’ve ever done.

“I realized that I had won everything there is to win.”

In retirement, she traveled the world with fellow Olympic champions like Jesse Owens, modeled, earned a nursing degree, traversed the Amazon River and climbed Mount Kilimanjaro.

She also established a non-profit foundation to help high-risk children stay in school and attend college.

McCormick held the U.S. female record of four career Olympic gold medals for 36 years until sprinter Evelyn Ashford and swimmer Janet Evans matched her in 1992. Speed skater Bonnie Blair broke the record in 1994.

McCormick and countryman Greg Louganis are the only divers to win the springboard and the platform at multiple Olympics.

McCormick held the Olympic record of four diving gold medals alone until Louganis tied it in 1988.

They shared the record until synchronized diving events were added to the Olympic program in 2000, increasing the number of diving events from two to four.

McCormick’s daughter, Kelly, won Olympic springboard diving silver and bronze medals in 1984 and 1988.

Football takes significant step in Olympic push

Flag Football
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Football took another step toward possible Olympic inclusion with the IOC executive board proposing that the sport’s international federation — the IFAF — be granted full IOC recognition at a meeting in October.

IOC recognition does not equate to eventual Olympic inclusion, but it is a necessary early marker if a sport is to join the Olympics down the line. The IOC gave the IFAF provisional recognition in 2013.

Specific measures are required for IOC recognition, including having an anti-doping policy compliant with the World Anti-Doping Agency and having 50 affiliated national federations from at least three continents. The IFAF has 74 national federations over five continents with almost 4.8 million registered athletes, according to the IOC.

The NFL has helped lead the push for flag football to be added for the 2028 Los Angeles Games. Flag football had medal events for men and women at last year’s World Games, a multi-sport competition including Olympic and non-Olympic sports, in Birmingham, Alabama.

Football is one of nine sports that have been reported to be in the running to be proposed by LA 2028 to the IOC to be added for the 2028 Games only. LA 2028 has not announced which, if any sports, it plans to propose.

Under rules instituted before the Tokyo Games, Olympic hosts have successfully proposed to the IOC adding sports solely for their edition of the Games.

For Tokyo, baseball-softball, karate, skateboarding, sport climbing and surfing were added. For Paris, skateboarding, sport climbing and surfing were approved again, and breaking will make its Olympic debut. Those sports were added four years out from the Games.

For 2028, the other sports reportedly in the running for proposal are baseball and softball, breaking, cricket, karate, kickboxing, lacrosse, motorsports and squash.

All of the other eight sports reportedly in the running for 2028 proposal already have a federation with full IOC recognition (if one counts the international motorcycle racing federation for motorsports).

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Helen Maroulis stars in wrestling documentary, with help from Chris Pratt

Helen Maroulis, Chris Pratt
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One of the remarkable recent Olympic comeback stories is the subject of a film that will be shown nationwide in theaters for one day only on Thursday.

“Helen | Believe” is a documentary about Helen Maroulis, the first U.S. Olympic women’s wrestling champion. It is produced by Religion of Sports, the venture founded by Gotham Chopra, Michael Strahan and Tom Brady. Showing details are here.

After taking gold at the 2016 Rio Games, Maroulis briefly retired in 2019 during a two-year stretch in which she dealt with concussions and post-traumatic stress disorder. The film focuses on that period and her successful bid to return and qualify for the Tokyo Games, where she took bronze.

In a poignant moment in the film, Maroulis described her “rock bottom” — being hospitalized for suicidal ideations.

In an interview, Maroulis said she was first approached about the project in 2018, the same year she had her first life-changing concussion that January. A wrestling partner’s mother was connected to director Dylan Mulick.

Maroulis agreed to the film in part to help spread mental health awareness in sports. Later, she cried while watching the 2020 HBO film, “The Weight of Gold,” on the mental health challenges that other Olympians faced, because it resonated with her so much.

“When you’re going through something, it sometimes gives you an anchor of hope to know that someone’s been through it before, and they’ve overcome it,” she said.

Maroulis’ comeback story hit a crossroads at the Olympic trials in April 2021, where the winner of a best-of-three finals series in each weight class made Team USA.

Maroulis won the opening match against Jenna Burkert, but then lost the second match. Statistically, a wrestler who loses the second match in a best-of-three series usually loses the third. But Maroulis pinned Burkert just 22 seconds into the rubber match to clinch the Olympic spot.

Shen then revealed that she tore an MCL two weeks earlier.

“They told me I would have to be in a brace for six weeks,” she said then. “I said, ‘I don’t have that. I have two and a half.’”

Maroulis said she later asked the director what would have happened if she didn’t make the team for Tokyo. She was told the film still have been done.

“He had mentioned this isn’t about a sports story or sports comeback story,” Maroulis said. “This is about a human story. And we’re using wrestling as the vehicle to tell this story of overcoming and healing and rediscovering oneself.”

Maroulis said she was told that, during filming, the project was pitched to the production company of actor Chris Pratt, who wrestled in high school in Washington. Pratt signed on as a producer.

“Wrestling has made an impact on his life, and so he wants to support these kinds of stories,” said Maroulis, who appeared at last month’s Santa Barbara Film Festival with Pratt.

Pratt said he knew about Maroulis before learning about the film, which he said “needed a little help to get it over the finish line,” according to a public relations company promoting the film.

The film also highlights the rest of the six-woman U.S. Olympic wrestling team in Tokyo. Four of the six won a medal, including Tamyra Mensah-Stock‘s gold.

“I was excited to be part of, not just (Maroulis’) incredible story, but also helping to further advance wrestling and, in particular, female wrestling,” Pratt said, according to responses provided by the PR company from submitted questions. “To me, the most compelling part of Helen’s story is the example of what life looks like after a person wins a gold medal. The inevitable comedown, the trauma around her injuries, the PTSD, the drive to continue that is what makes her who she is.”

Maroulis, who now trains in Arizona, hopes to qualify for this year’s world championships and next year’s Olympics.

“I try to treat every Games as my last,” she said. “Now I’m leaning toward being done [after 2024], but never say never.”

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