“I was having breakfast in the Olympic Village,” Frank Gorman related to me several months ago. “There are people from all over the world there, some of their names and faces are in the papers. And suddenly you’re mingling with them. One day, a bunch of guys from the US track team sat down at my table and we chatted. I said I was on the swim team, a diver. The man I was talking with asked if I knew a man named Gorman, and then he said ‘I heard he’s the best we got.’ Well, that was Bob Hayes, and he’s looking at me like I’m special.”
Frank Gorman, from my home town of New York, was special. After just missing the cut to the 1960 Olympics in Rome, he won the diving trials for the three-meter springboard competition convincingly. People believed Gorman was the best the US had, and was expected to win gold.
Gorman went on to win silver at the Tokyo Olympiad, become a diving judge at the 1968 Olympic Games as well as World Championships, Pan American Games, High Diving and Cliff Diving competitions. One of the most active members of the US Diving community, Frank Gorman, as it was announced on November 18, will be inducted into the International Swimming Hall of Fame next June.
The youngest of six kids, Gorman got a lot of attention from his athletic parents and siblings. The family would go out to Lake Tonetta in Brewster, New York for summer vacations, and his older brothers and sister would take to throwing Gorman in the air teaching him how to do acrobatic tricks. So flipping off the pier on a small diving board came easy to him. Gorman was so good as a high school student that he was recruited by a Harvard swim team alumnus over three years – Gorman would visit the Crimson campus, room with members of the swim team, and eventually enroll at Harvard, where he never lost a diving competition.
The Olympics are the meeting ground for the best of the best. And at the Tokyo Games, in the beautiful Tange-designed “National Gymnasium” where the swimming and diving competitions were held, Gorman held the lead in the 3-meter springboard competition after 8 dives, with only two remaining.
“It was difficult to sleep the night before competing,” Gorman told me. “I’m lying on my bed trying to sleep, seeing my dives over and over again. I would finally get to sleep around 5. And then I’d go and compete. There was a lot of waiting in between dives, so I took a lot of naps. But during the competition, I was good, focused.” And after 8 dives, the gold was Gorman’s to take.
Gorman explained that when he is in good form, he feels the water in a special way and in the right order. “Time slows down, I feel the water with my fingertips, then my head, my chest…but on that ninth dive, my lower legs did not enter the water the right way and I felt the water on my back where I shouldn’t have felt it, and I knew immediately that I was short. Now, just before that dive somebody on the deck said to me, ‘Whatever you do, don’t go LONG’. Now why he said that, I do not know. Because I was always a little short on the Back 2 & 1/2. Anyway, it messed with my mind and I did not go long – I went shorter than I ever had before. I kicked too early, kicking at the board instead of above the board, so I didn’t make it to the vertical I needed. I got low scores. That was devastating. I had gotten straight 9’s on that dive at the Trials.”
Now behind in the score and entering his tenth and final dive, his coach advised him to ease down the determination and intensity to make sure Gorman executed well enough to give him a chance at gold. But Gorman thought that this would be the last dive of his career, and that “I have to go for it!” Gorman gave it 100% and had his best dive of the competition. You can see that amazing dive here!
But by that time, even his best effort could not help him climb his way back to the top. His American teammate, Ken Sitzberger, took gold instead, and with diver, Larry Andreasen, led a USA sweep of the gold, silver and bronze medals for the three-meter springboard. In fact, the U.S. team won eight of the twelve Olympic diving medals, making for a very happy diving team.
“Yes, I didn’t get the gold,” said Gorman. “It was a big disappointment. But I look around at other disappointments, and silver is not so bad. I am very grateful. We were three happy guys. As far as I know. It had never been done before. And never done since.”