Going right to her last dive, Laura Wilkinson survived a scare at the U.S. trials yesterday in St. Peters, Mo., and earned a chance to defend her gold medal at the Olympics.
Wilkinson, a surprise winner of the 10-meter platform at Sydney four years ago, went to the final round with a scant 5.37-point lead over high schooler Brittany Viola, the daughter of former major league pitcher Frank Viola.
Unlike past years, when the top two in each event made the team, only the winner was guaranteed a spot this time. Wilkinson faced the improbable prospect of missing the team altogether, having already been upset in synchronized 10-meter.
Viola, going four divers ahead of Wilkinson, over-rotated the entry on her final attempt, the telltale splash leading to mediocre scores ranging from 5.5 to 6.0.
Still, Wilkinson couldn't afford to bobble on her last dive, a backward pike 21/2 somersault with 11/2 twists -- the most difficult in her repertoire.
The 26-year-old Texan didn't waver a bit. Her marks: a row of 9s broken up by one 8.5, giving her a total of 878.85 points. The precarious lead became a comfortable victory over Viola, who settled for second with 836.40.
Still, it was a surprising performance by the 17-year-old Viola, who just finished her junior year of high school. Her father, the 1988 American League Cy Young Award winner and 1987 World Series MVP, cheered her on from the stands.
Because of International Olympic Committee rules limiting the number of spots for each country, Viola won't be on the Olympic team. The second spot in platform will go to the highest-scoring member of the winning synchro team, Sara Hildebrand.
She finished fifth in the individual competition with 809.88 points. Hildebrand, who competed in Sydney under her maiden name of Reiling, will dive synchro with Cassandra Cardinell, who was eighth on her own.
Lenny Krayzelburg, Natalie Coughlin and Amanda Beard won their races as Americans dominated on the final day of the Janet Evans Invitational.
The four-day meet was a tuneup for next month's U.S. Olympic trials to be held in the same above-ground pool built on a parking lot along the Long Beach, Calif., shoreline.
Jenny Thompson, who will try to make her fourth Olympic team at age 31, was third in the 100 butterfly.
Krayzelburg won the 100-meter backstroke in 55.28 seconds -- well off his nearly five-year-old world record.
Coughlin earned her third victory of the meet, taking the 100 backstroke in 1:00.80. She also swept the 100 and 200 freestyles.
Burke's Ed Moses, a 2000 Olympian, was fourth in the 100 breaststroke.
Susan Williams and Victor Plata claimed the final women's and men's spots on the U.S. Olympic triathlon team.
American Hunter Kemper and Britain's Liz Blatchford won their races in an international triathlon at Bloedel Donovan Park, but Williams and Plata were the biggest winners in Bellingham, Wash.
The 34-year-old Williams finished third in the women's elite race, less than a minute behind Blatchford's winning time of 2:06:46.
The 31-year-old Plata was seventh in the men's elite race, beating out three other Americans who were also vying for the last berth.