Skimming the pool like a waterbug fleeing frogs, tiny Janet Evans swam to America's first gold of the Olympics on a day of confusion, dissension and near disaster for the U.S. team.
The California kids, Evans and bronze medalist Matt Biondi, let in a little sunshine on a gloomy, rainy Monday that began with one U.S. boxer in the hospital and another missing his bus and his bout.Diver Greg Louganis banged his head on the springboard, Carl Lewis was threatened with expulsion from the relay team by the coach for disruptive behavior, and the gold medal favorite U.S. women's basketball team survived a scare in beating Czechoslovakia 87-81.
Louganis, seeking a matching set of golds for the pair he won at the 1984 Los Angeles Games, led until his head hit the board on his ninth dive, a reverse 21/2 somersault in the pike position. He received a score of just 6.3 for that dive.
Diving coach Vince Panzano said Louganis leaned back slightly when he landed on the board to get his lift, didn't compensate with the angle of his leap, as he usually does, and went up too vertically.
"When he straightened out from the pike position, he was obviously too close to the board," Panzano said. "I had a sick feeling in my stomach. I saw it developing as soon as he took off from the board."
The U.S. team doctor examined Louganis and determined he hadn't suffered a concussion, then temporarily sewed up the gash on the back of his head so he could finish the round.
Louganis nailed his next dive, scoring the highest total of the tournament so far, 87.12. He finished in third place to join 11 others in Tuesday's final, narrowed from a 35-man field, then had his wound cleaned again and closed with five stitches.
"I fully anticipate he'll be able to compete tomorrow without difficulty," said Dr. James Puffer, the team physician.
"There's no doubt in my mind that he's more embarrassed than hurt," said team manager Micki King Hogue, who broke her arm when she hit the springboard on her final dive in the 1968 Olympics and fell from first to fourth. "He can't wait to do the dive tomorrow."
Tan Liangde of China led the preliminaries, followed by Albin Killat of West Germany, but all divers start from scratch in the final round. Mark Bradshaw of Columbus, Ohio, also qualified for the finals, going from 19th to seventh in the last three dives after Louganis's accident.
While Louganis approached perfection a couple of times, Romanian gymnast Daniela Silivas, a 4-foot-6, 84-pound pixie, reached it - twice.
Silivas scored the rare 10s, achieved for the first time in the 1976 Olympics by compatriot Nadia Comaneci, who recorded seven perfect scores. Silivas was flawless in the floor exercise and on the uneven bars, whirling with dazzling power for one so small, to take the individual lead midway through the compulsory competition.
However, the Soviet Union took a narrow lead in the team event as its star, 4-foot-10 Elena Shushunova, produced a 10 in the vault.
Evans isn't quite as small as Silivas or Shushunova but the 17-year-old high school student from Placentia, Calif., looks like a morsel of bait compared to her taller, more muscular competitors - until they hit the water.
Evans, a triple world record holder, easily won the women's 400-meter individual medley by 1.70 seconds in 4 minutes, 37.76 seconds, or more than a body's length ahead of silver medalist Noemi Lung of Romania and bronze medalist Daniela Hunger of East Germany.
Evans said she is stronger, relative to her weight of 105 pounds, than any other woman swimmer.
"Even though I'm skinny, I'm not that little," said Evans, at 5-4 the shortest swimmer in the race and a head shorter than some of her competitors. "I'm petite-boned. I don't see what difference that makes. It never bothered me and never will."
Neither was Evans upset about narrowly missing the world record of 4:36.10. She smiled and giggled all the way to the victory stand, sang the Star Spangled Banner during the raising of the U.S. flag, and seemed astonished that a reporter would open her post-race news conference by asking if she was disappointed about her time.
The 6-foot-7 Biondi, with a bronze medal around his neck after finishing third in the 200 freestyle behind Australia's Duncan Armstrong and Sweden's Anders Holmertz, wasn't terribly disappointed either, even though he did not live up to speculation he would equal Mark Spitz' seven golds.
"I never said I would win seven gold medals," said Biondi of the University of California at Berkeley. "I wanted to do the best I could. The 200 is my worst race and I medaled. I'm real happy."