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Lenzi makes his move

Mark Lenzi used an outstanding semifinal round Monday to improve his chances for a second straight Olympic springboard diving gold medal.

Lenzi of Bloomington, Ind., was ninth after Sunday night's preliminaries but he tied for the second-highest score in Monday's five semifinal dives. Only the semifinal score carried over to Monday night's final.

"I felt better," said Lenzi, who said he was suffering from head congestion Sunday. "I could finally go down to the bottom of the pool."

He trailed China's Xiong Ni, who pulled in front of Lenzi on the last of his five semifinal dives. Xiong, who led after the preliminaries, scored 231.45 Monday afternoon. Lenzi had 229.74, the same score as Dmitry Sautin of Russia, the pre-Olympic favorite. The other American, Scott Donie of Houston, was fourth with 223.86.

All four have Olympic medals from 1992. Lenzi was first and Sautin third in the 3-meter springboard, and Donie was second and Xiong third in the platform. Xiong also has a platform silver medal from 1988.

Each of the 18 semifinalists took five dives to cut the field to 12.

Lenzi, who retired after the 1993 season and returned to diving in April 1995, said he was having a good meet against a strong field.

"These guys have been training for four years, and I've been training for a year," he said after the semifinals. "I expect to do well, but if I don't win it, it's the struggle to get there that's been meaningful."

Lenzi's semifinal performance was a dramatic turnaround from the preliminary round just 12 hours earlier. He was in 26th place after the third of those six dives before rallying into ninth.

"I knew from the first dive I had to get it going because I didn't expect this kind of a contest," Lenzi said Sunday night. "After I missed two dives, I thought, well, I'm probably out because this is probably the greatest 3-meter field of divers you'll ever see in the world."

Now Lenzi has a chance to beat them all.

He scored the only 9.0s out of a possible 10 on the first two rounds, getting one on each. And he arranged his program so his last three dives would have higher degrees of difficulty than his first two, meaning an outstanding dive had the potential for a very high score.

But Xiong saved one of his toughest for his last dive.

His score for the day was second to Lenzi as he prepared for his final dive, an inward 1{ somersault from the pike position. He hit it beautifully and scored 52.29 points, the highest for any of the 90 dives.

Sautin also improved dramatically from the preliminaries in which he finished sixth. His best dive was his third, a reverse pike on which four of his seven judges awarded him a 9.0. He is trying to match Greg Louganis' feat in 1984 and 1988 of winning the springboard and platform titles at the same Olympics.

Donie was steady throughout the semifinals. He started and ended the round in fourth.

"Everything is upbeat," Donie said. "I'm right on schedule. I'm in solid position. I have a tendency to dive better in night sessions and finals."

Donie qualified ahead of Lenzi at the U.S. trials last month.

"My whole comeback year, prelims have been killing me every single time," Lenzi said, "but then the finals are great."

Donie was encouraged by his performance and he thanked the American fans.

"I think it's an advantage," he said. "If a judge is deciding between 8.5 and 9 and he hears the crowd, he might go with the 9."

The Americans are trying to hold off the relentless surge of Chinese divers. Fu Mingxia of China took the first diving gold medal in women's platform diving Saturday night, and she will go after her third Olympic gold medal when the women's springboard competition starts today.

Nobody is surprised that the Chinese are once again in strong medal position. In 1992 China won three of the four gold medals, and a total of five of the 12 medals. The United States has won at least one gold medal in diving in every Summer Games since 1920.