Olympic Spotlight: Diving's Mary Ellen Clark and Nancilea Underwood-Foster

July 30, 2008

by Jeff Smith
Contributor, BigTen.org

With the 2008 Beijing Summer Olympic Games quickly approaching, BigTen.org takes a look at both former and current Olympians who have made their mark in their respective sports.  In today's "Olympic Spotlight" feature, we take a look at the Olympic diving careers of Mary Ellen Clark of Penn State and Iowa's Nancilea Underwood-Foster.

1992 - Barcelona (Bronze)
1996 - Atlanta (Bronze)

Mary Ellen Clark was not only a two-time Olympian but a two-time Big Ten representative as well.  Clark spent her college career at Penn State prior to the school's inception to the conference, but then moved on to Ohio State to earn an advanced degree and continue her diving career.

The former Nittany Lion and Buckeye diver captured a bronze medal in both the 1992 Barcelona Games and 1996 Olympics in Atlanta.  In 1992, Clark earned her ticket to Barcelona with a second-place finish at the U.S. Olympic Trials in Indianapolis.  At the Games, she finished second in preliminary round of the 10-meter platform and then captured the bronze in the finals.

In Atlanta, Clark recovered from a relatively poor showing in the preliminary round and bounced back to take first place with nine divers remaining to compete.  Following what would be the last dive of her career, Clark received a standing ovation from the spectators and competitors, and walked away with her second straight bronze medal.

What was most remarkable about Clark's performance in Atlanta was the simple fact that she was even able to compete.  In January of 1995, she suffered with a bout of vertigo.  During a practice session on the 1-meter springboard, Clark exited the water dizzy after a dive.  She eventually won that battle just eight months prior to the 1996 Olympic Trials and earned a spot on the U.S. Olympic team.



Outside of Olympic competition, Clark was a seven-time U.S. national champion as a participant on the U.S. National Diving team from 1986-90.  She won the 1987 U.S. Outdoor Diving Championships and competed in both the Pan-American Games and the Olympic Trials in 1988.

During her time at Penn State, Clark captured six Eastern Collegiate Diving Championships.  Following graduation, she listened to the advice of her diving coach Dennis Golden and moved to Columbus to train under Vince Panzano at Ohio State.

Total Medals
* 1st Olympics in 2008

2008 - Beijing

Former Iowa diver Nancilea Underwood-Foster earned a spot on the 2008 U.S. Olympic Diving team in early July after earning the second individual Olympic 3-meter springboard spot at the USA Diving selection camp in Knoxville, Tenn.  She is the first Hawkeye female diver to make an Olympic team. 

Underwood-Foster will dive behind Indiana's Christina Loukas, who won the 3-meter springboard competition at the Olympic Trials in Indianapolis in June. 

Despite Beijing being her first Olympic Games, the former Hawkeye has quite the extensive resume when it comes to international diving.  Over the past four years, Underwood-Foster claimed five gold medals at the Speedo USA Diving Spring National Diving Championships.  She captured both the 3-meter and 3-meter Synchro titles at the 2005 and 2007 events, and earned the 3-meter crown at the event earlier this year.  In 2007, she earned the silver in both of her signature events at the Kaiser Permanente National Diving Championships and was a bronze medalist on the 3-meter board at the 2007 FINA Diving World Series in Mexico City.

At the FINA World Diving Championships, Underwood-Foster placed sixth on the 3-meter in 2007 and ninth in 2006.

During her time at Iowa, Underwood-Foster became the lone five-time all-American in the school's swimming and diving history.  She placed second on the 3-meter board at the 2005 NCAA Championships and followed it up with a fourth-place finish in 2006.  Underwood-Foster also settled for third on the 1-meter at the 2005 NCAA Championships.  She was runner-up on the 3-meter board and third on the 1-meter at the 2003 Big Ten Championships and opted to take an Olympic redshirt during the 2003-04 season.  That year she placed fourth on the 3-meter at the Olympic Trials, just missing a bid to the Athens Games.

Underwood-Foster was awarded the Big Ten Medal of Honor in 2006 and was recognized for her achievements in the classroom as well.  She was an Academic All-American and a three-time Academic All-Big Ten honoree.