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Clark returns for a bronze

Mary Ellen Clark, fighting her way back from adversity for most of her diving career, came back one final time Saturday night to win consecutive Olympic platform bronze medals.

Clark, from Fort Lauderdale, clawed her way back from near-elimination in the preliminary round to end a brilliant 26-year diving career with a third-place 472.95 point total, just 6.27 points out of second.

Clark, 33, the oldest diver in the women's field, battled back from a nine-month bout with vertigo to regain her form to make her second and final Olympic appearance.

"She is the comeback kid," eight-time Olympic coach Ron O'Brien said.

With three divers in contention for the bronze medal going into the fifth round, Clark roared back on her final dive.

With her father, Gene, watching from the stands, Clark clinched the medal by scoring five 8s and one 8.5 on her back 2{ somersault with 2{ twists. Gene Clark, undergoing chemotherapy for bladder cancer, unlike the 1992 Games, was in the stands Saturday night.

"This was absolutely awesome," Clark said. "It was 110 percent full steam ahead. I really didn't want to finish my career in warmup."

An emotional Clark cried in the arms of O'Brien, her longtime coach.

"She showed a lot of heart coming back," O'Brien said. "It's nice to see her going out with a medal around her neck. For her to come back after all that time out and actually almost get a silver out of it is incredible.

"I knew it was real close," O'Brien said. "It was sit and wait, sit and wait."

China's Fu Mingxia, the world's top woman platform diver, who learned to dive before she could swim, defended her Olympic title with 521.58.

Germany's Annika Walter, taking advantage of a collapse by China's Guo Jingjing on her final dive, was a surprising second with 479.22.

Before a sellout crowd of 15,000, one of the largest to witness an international diving event, Fu, 17, had enough precision and power to top the 12-diver field at Georgia Tech Aquatic Center.

Fu was the second youngest diver to win a gold medal in the Olympics at Barcelona. If she wins the 3-meter springboard, she will have a chance to tie the Olympic record for diving golds shared by Greg Louganis and Pat McCormick with four at the 2000 Olympics in Sydney, Australia. She would be 21.

Both Clark, 33, and Becky Ruehl, 18, of Lakeside Park, Ky., made it to the final round of 12.

Fu qualified first with 509.19 points. Guo qualified second with 492.69 and Clark moved from ninth to third place and was only five points out of first.

Ruehl fell from second after prelims to ninth, 16 points out of first place, after the semifinals. Despite her low degree of difficulty she nearly won a medal.

Clark shook off a poor preliminary round, scoring consistent rounds of 7s and 8s on all four required semifinal round dives.

"I felt more relaxed, more focused in the semifinals," Clark said. "I was concentrating more on technique, which is all that matters.

"All the extra stuff, I just left it home," Clark said. "I gave my brain to Ron and just told him he could have it because I'm not going to use it today. It was good. . . . We work well together."