Laura Wilkinson pulled off one of the great stories of the Sydney 2000 Olympics, jumping from eighth place over five final-round dives to become the first U.S. woman in 36 years to win platform gold.
Wilkinson prevailed six months after breaking three middle bones in her right foot, banging it on a piece of plywood used for training. The U.S. would go 12 years before winning another Olympic diving medal.
The Texan competed in the 2004 and 2008 Olympics before retiring and giving birth to daughter Arella and son Zadok and adopting another baby, Zoe, from China in between.
She has stayed close to the sport, serving as an athlete representative for USA Diving through 2012 and doing some commentating. She won’t push her children into the sport -- “Maybe they’ll be great piano players,” she says -- but the opportunity will certainly be there to put those genes to use.
OlympicTalk recently caught up with Wilkinson to look back on her career and discuss what it’s like to chase three young children around.
OlympicTalk: Does your gold medal remind you of any other Olympic come-from-behind victories?
Wilkinson: When they made that movie, “Miracle,” about the 1980 hockey team [in 2004], that really resonated with me. I was nowhere near that kind of level or had that number of people watching me, but the feelings and what they went through. Being the underdog, nobody felt like I had a chance. That movie makes me nostalgic about what we went through in Sydney. Maybe it was on a smaller scale, but it was big to me.
OlympicTalk: Any other interesting stories from Sydney?
Wilkinson: My mom managed to sneak home my [medal ceremony] bouquet. You’re not supposed to take plants across borders, but my mom gave the customs border agent a sad face.
OlympicTalk: Before the Olympics, you won the 1998 Goodwill Games platform title in New York. What was it like competing at an international competition in New York?
Wilkinson: It was kind of cool and unusual, one of my first international meets where there were more sports than just diving. I got a little taste of what the Olympics would be like. It was my first time diving on live TV and that many people in the stands watching. I was still dreaming about the Olympics at that point.
I thought it was awesome to be on our home turf. We were out on Long Island, but we got to go into town and see some things.
OlympicTalk: What was the worst dive of your career?
Wilkinson: A back armstand triple tuck off the 10-meter, in ’98, right before the Goodwill Games. I started throwing my head back on a takeoff in practice, and before I knew it I landed on my stomach. After that I started closing my eyes on dives. I’d never been so lost before. It was a really scary time. I would rather take a hit, break a bone, go through some type of pain, but that dive was all-encompassing. I closed my eyes [diving] for years after that. I finally admitted that to my coach [Kenny Armstrong] in 2001. We had to go back through the basics again of spotting my dives [looking for the water mid-dive to know when to kick out your feet and preparing for water entry].
OlympicTalk: Divers always have headphones on between dives. What did you listen to?
Wilkinson: It depended on what kind of mood I was in. If I was mellow, I wanted something upbeat to get me to jump around a lot. If I was nervous, something slower to calm me down. I liked Jeremy Camp, Tobymac and Natalie Grant.
OlympicTalk: What’s life like now as a mother of three?
Wilkinson: Very different. I get a little stir crazy some times. I’m not used to being at the house so much. It’s kind of a different Olympics. I call it the Momlympics [blogging about it here].
When I was diving and training full time, I still had breaks, rests, a full night’s sleep, massages and ice on things that hurt. When you’re a parent, especially with three kids under 3, there’s no down time, no rest for the weary. But it’s awesome. The rewards are way better than standing on top of a podium for a matter of seconds. They last a liftetime.