Jeanne & Ken Tokyo 1
Ken and Jeanne in Tokyo, from the collection of Jeanne Collier

He was a 19-year-old university student from Illinois. She was an 18-year-old high school student from Arizona. They would go on to be diving’s power couple in Tokyo as Ken Sitzberger won gold in the men’s 3-meter springboard diving competition, and Jeanne Collier took silver in the women’s 3-meter springboard competition.

Collier told me that there was some resistance by the coaches to their dating during final preparations for the XVIII Olympiad in Tokyo, but she said there was never really anything to worry about regarding their readiness.

We met in 1962 at a Nationals. He was from Chicago and I was from Phoenix. We had a letter writing campaign. He went to Indiana. I was still in high school. We got to know each other. So as we prepared for Tokyo, he and I hung out together. The coaches didn’t like that. But it was harmless. At that time, we would have time off, talk at meals, but the focus had to be on training.

Ken & Jeanne Wedding
Ken and Jeanne on their wedding day, from the collection of Jeanne Collier

And the results spoke for themselves. Not only did Sitzberger and Collier win medals at the Tokyo Summer Games, they did so in dramatic, come-from-behind fashion.

In Sitzberger’s case, he was trailing USA teammate Frank Gorman going into the penultimate 9th dive of the competition. While Gorman had his worst dive of the competition, Sitzberger had his best, leapfrogging Gorman into the lead. Despite a strong final dive from Gorman, Sitzberger was able to hold on to win. As his coach, Jerry Darda, was quoted as saying, Sitzberger was a confident person, who a year before, despite winning bronze at the Pan American Games, told Darda that he would win gold in Tokyo.

“Kenny said right-out: ‘I’m going to win the gold medal.’  I didn’t want to ruin his confidence, but I asked him how he could be sure.  He had barely made the team and missed fourth by only five points.  But Kenny had analyzed the whole thing, the strengths and weaknesses of the other divers who were ranked one, two, three in the world – they were his competition – and he knew they’d all be going to training camp for a few weeks before the Olympics.  He told me ‘Those guys are going to see me in training camp and that’s going to help me.  They’re going to feel a lot of extra pressure after they see me dive every day.  They’re going to realize I just don’t miss.'”

In Collier’s case, she was trailing her teammate Patsy Willard as they entered the final optional dives, the three dives where the level of difficulty can send you crashing out of the race, or propel you to victory. The reigning Olympic champion, Ingrid Engel-Kramer of East Germany, led the competition from start to finish, and took gold for the second consecutive Olympics. Willard had a 3-point lead on Collier entering the optional dives, as well as the experience of battling the Olympic pressures in Rome four years before. On top of that, Collier did poorly on her first optional dive – “a forward 2 ½ somersault, which was horrible.” But she pulled herself together for a come-back.

“I had a talk with myself. I had the highest degree of difficulty. I had my two highest difficulty dives left and they were to be my best dives.” Collier snatched silver from her

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GormanAndreasonSitzberger_1964
Larry Andreasen, Ken Sitzberger and Frank Gorman lead an American sweep of the medals in the 3-meter springboard competition at the 1964 Tokyo Summer Games.

 

“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.”

GormanFrankTokyo1964-1
Frank Gorman competing at the Tokyo Olympics.

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.

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“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.”