Olympic gold medalist diver Mark Lenzi dies at 43

Bloomington: Mark Lenzi struck gold when he switched from wrestling to diving in the mid-1980s.

Over the next decade, he became the 1992 Olympic 3-meter springboard champion, earned a bronze medal four years later in Atlanta and became the first driver to score 100 points on a single dive.

On Monday, Lenzi, the last American male diver to win Olympic gold, died at the age of 43 in Greenville, N.C.

Lenzi`s alma mater, Indiana University, posted the announcement on its web site but did not provide a cause of death. His mother, Ellie, told the family`s hometown newspaper, The Free Lance-Star of Fredricksburg, Va., that Lenzi had been hospitalized the past two weeks because of fainting spells that were caused by low blood pressure.

"Mark came from a wrestling background and the goal of any wrestler is to pin you," former Olympic teammate and current Texas diving coach Matt Scoggin told USA Diving. "When Mark got into a contest, he was going to pin you. I remember before his first World Cup, he was going to win 1-meter, I thought there was no way — it was my third World Cup and I was still trying to get on the podium. He won. He was a very confident competitor."

It almost didn`t happen.

Lenzi was wrestling in high school when he was suddenly captivated by Greg Louganis` remarkable Olympics performance in 1984. Lenzi quickly changed sports and dove right into his new passion.

In 1989, he swept the Big Ten titles in the 1-meter, 3-meter and platform competitions, then went on to win the first of his back-to-back 1-meter national championships in `89. He was selected the NCAA`s diver of the year in 1989 and 1990.

But Lenzi was just beginning to emerge on the international stage.

His victory on the 3-meter board at the Barcelona Olympics gave the Americans their third straight title in that event. Four years later, following a brief retirement, Lenzi earned an Olympic bronze medal.

No American male diver has won an Olympic diving medal since Lenzi in `96.

"Mark grabbed onto a dream," Scoggin said. "He wasn`t going to believe anything was impossible. It was amazing how rapidly he became an Olympic champion."

Lenzi`s impressive resume includes 18 international springboard championships. He was the first diver to score more than 700 points in an 11-dive competition on the 3-meter board and was the first American to successfully complete a forward, 4½ somersault in competition.

"As an Olympic gold and bronze medalist, Mark was one of our country`s greatest divers, and he will be missed tremendously," USA Diving chairman Bob Rydze said in a statement posted on the organization`s web site.

After his diving career ended, Lenzi went into coaching. He helped four divers win national age-group titles with Indiana`s junior diving team and coached men`s and women`s divers at East Carolina from 2009-11.

Lenzi is survived by his wife, Dorothy, his mother, two brothers, one sister and his grandmother, Mary Cochran. Lenzi`s funeral and viewing will be held Tuesday at Wilkerson Funeral Home in Greensville from 6 to 8 p.m.

"Mark and I spoke just a few weeks ago, my heart goes out to you," Louganis wrote on the USA Diving web site. "There are no words to express how heartfelt a loss this is. Healing hugs, Greg."

Bureau Report

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