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Saturday, June 28, 2008

OLYMPIC NOTEBOOK

Diver Ishimatsu has good shot at U.S. team for Beijing


Staff writer

For Olympic fans, there's a new Japanese-American athlete to keep an eye on. And she has the potential to be a household name for years to come.

Diver Haley Ishimatsu, 15, is in the mix for a spot on the U.S. Olympic team. The 147-cm ex-gymnast resides in Indianapolis, the city where the recently concluded U.S. Olympic Diving Trials were held.

Ishimatsu finished second in the 10-meter platform event with 1,140.40 points.

Laura Wilkinson, a gold medalist at the 2000 Sydney Summer Games, placed first with 1,241.50 points.

Up next: Ishimatsu will be one of five female divers who will attend a team selection camp in Knoxville, Tenn., in early July. One of them will be chosen to compete in Beijing.

Asked about her thoughts on the Olympic dream in an interview with NBCOlympics.com, Ishimatsu responded by saying, "Before when I was in gymnastics, I used to picture myself on the podium at the Olympics, just having the time of my life, just being so happy and so proud of myself and all the competitors, having like the best meet that everyone can have and me being out on top.

"And now it is almost the same, just now I have two different events," she added, referring to the 10-meter platform and 10-meter synchronized diving events.

Ishimatsu began training as a diver at age 11. However, her path to prominence is unique.

"Well, when I started out as a gymnast it was always my dream to go to the Olympics, and it still is, but it was a chain of events," she told NBCOlympics.com. "First, my sister Tori (Victoria) had a serious elbow injury and had to quit gymnastics. And then my coach got fired, and then I had to move gyms, and they wanted me there like eight hours a day and it just got (to be) too much.

"Finally, I fractured my own elbow, and then since my sister Tori was already in diving, I decided to try that since she seemed to be doing really well."

Victoria Ishimatsu, 19, is one of six 3-meter platform divers who will be at the same Tennessee camp vying for a coveted spot on the Olympic team.

Her younger sister, meanwhile, has experienced consistent success, picking up a win, two runnerup spots and a third-place medal in four national meets prior to the Olympic trials.

Reportedly, Haley Ishimatsu is one of only three women in the world who can perform a back 3 1/2 pike, a somersault dive in which the performer's body is "bent at the hips with knees straight and hips pointed," according to online diving glossary Hickoksports.com.

Analyzing the thought process that goes through her head when she does this difficult dive, Ishimatsu offered this explanation: "As you go around, you see the water go past and that's how you — that's how most divers, at least — count their flips. It really helps because you get a sense of awareness like how high you are and how much time you have and how fast you're going, so you can (take) time when you come out and go in the water as vertical as you can."

Clearly, Ishimatsu is already an athlete with a keen understanding of what it takes to excel at the elite level.

"She really does have the capacity, on a given day, to win the gold medal," Ron O'Brien, USA Diving's high performance director, told The Indianapolis Star.

Missed the cut: Gymnast Yewki Tomita, a native of Tucson, Ariz., came up short in his quest to make the 2008 U.S. Olympic men's gymnastics team. Six gymnasts and three alternates were selected after the U.S. Olympic trials recently concluded in Philadelphia.

Tomita placed 12th in the all-around competition. The 28-year-old finished tied for first in the pommel horse, his specialty event.

A symbol of resiliency in an ultra-difficult sport — he endured the pain and rehabilitation that followed his six shoulder surgeries — Tomita captured the pommel horse gold at the USA National Gymnastics Championships in May.

Paul Hamm, the reigning Olympic champion, his twin brother Morgan, Kevin Tan, Joseph Hagerty, Justin Spring and Jonathan Horton comprise the Team USA lineup.

Tomita's father, Yoichi, is the chairman of the USA Gymnastics men's team.

Yoichi Tomita was the national high school boys champion in Japan in 1973 before moving to the United States, attending Long Beach State and becoming one of the NCAA's top gymnasts. He then embarked on a career in coaching, establishing Gymnastics World in Tucson.

Longtime Arizona Daily Star columnist Greg Hansen, who has known the Tomita family for years, wrote recently that the elder Tomita visited Japan in May to work with an NBC-TV crew to assist in the production of a feature on Japanese gymnasts, which will be televised during the Olympics.

Medal talk: How many medals will Japan earn in Beijing?

Your guess is as good as mine.

A brief reminder: Japan collected 16 gold, nine silver and 12 bronze medals at the 2004 Athens Summer Games.

PricewaterhouseCoopers has come up with its own prediction: Japan will nab 37 medals, according to a survey released on Monday and detailed in a story by AP.

The accounting firm predicts China will haul in a world-best 88 medals at the Beijing Games, while the United States will grab 87.

Other predictions: Russia will pick up 79 medals, while Germany (43), Australia (41), France (30), Italy (29), England (28) and South Korea (27) will also have strong showings.

"As the host nation in Beijing and (with) and economy which has grown very strongly since 2004, the medal target of 88 for China according to our model is much higher than its actual medal totals in Athens (63) or Sydney (59), John Hawksworth," the report's author, told AP.

Nations population, average income level and Olympic performances since 1988 were factored into PricewaterhouseCoopers' projections.

"The bottom line is that size matters, but it is not everything," Hawksworth said. "David can sometimes slay Goliath in the Olympic arena."

Hawksworth elaborated on this point. India, he said, is a "significant under-performer," citing the fact that the Asian nation excels at cricket, a non-Olympic sport, but hasn't had continued success in a wide range of Olympic sports.

Trend-setting swimsuits: In a detailed story posted on Reuters.com on Monday, writer Ben Klayman poignantly pointed out the dramatic changes that have taken place over the past several months.

Klayman begins his story with these insightful words: "A revolutionary bodysuit has divided the world of swimming in the haves and the have-nots just weeks before the Beijing Olympics, testing relationships between federations, athletes and rival suppliers."

Interesting enough, Klayman observed, the Speedo LZR Racer is currently being shown at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.

The revolutionary swimsuit, of course, doesn't need any more publicity. The words "LZR Racer" have appeared in newspapers and been uttered by newscasters nearly as often as Obama and McCain in recent weeks.

Call it an inevitable fact based on this: 38 world records have been established by the Speedo-clad swimmers over the past four-plus months, including Kosuke Kitajima in the 200-meter breaststroke.

"The Speedo LZR Racer is not a miracle suit," Speedo Vice President Craig Brommers told Reuters. "It has set zero world records."

This case is far from closed. But, hey, that's a good thing for the sport, which often fails to generate widespread publicity in non-Olympic years.



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