Looking Back: Gossick's Success As Olympic Diver
By Taylor Gelbrich
When Sue Gossick — a graduate of Cal — climbed out of the pool in Tokyo in the summer of 1964, she had just finished fourth in 3-meter springboard diving at the Olympic Games, missing the medal podium by one spot.
Less than two minutes later, the 15-year-old Southern California native was already planning her return to the 1968 Summer Games in Mexico City. Even though it was four years away it became clear in her mind that the medal stand would be her final stop. And if there's one thing you need to know about Gossick, it's that when she set a goal, she generally reached it.
But being a diver wasn't originally part of her plan.
"Diving was by accident. I used to ride horses and when I was eight years old I got thrown off a horse and the horse trampled on my ankle," Gossick said. "My therapy was holding on to a kick board and kicking my legs as water therapy. I used to see these people jumping off the diving board and I thought it would be more fun than kicking and kicking."
Her diving career took off from there. When a lifeguard at the Encino swim school saw Gossick diving at the pool, he asked Gossick's mother if her daughter could join his diving team. A couple months later, the U.S Olympic Development Committee singled out Gossick as a budding star and potential Olympic champion. She was nine.
Diving just came naturally to Gossick. Everyone around her knew she was good, but Gossick never thought anything about it. She didn't even know what the Olympics were at the time. She began diving because she loved it and she had fun, but the drive to make the Olympic team in 1964 came from something her father said to her.
"The trials in '64 were in New York and my father told me if you make the team I'll buy you a new car, whatever you want," Gossick said.
Gossick made the Olympic team and he kept his promise. She made the trip to Tokyo and he came through with a 1964 Mustang.
While she just missed medaling in 1964, when she returned in 1968 she just knew the gold was hers.
"I knew when I was first introduced to the pool in Mexico City, when I walked into the stadium," Gossick said. "I already made it up in my mind that I was going to hear the national anthem and win."
Gossick came through with gold in the 1968 Games for the United States, but it wasn't without bumps in the road. She almost didn't make the 1968 Olympic team.
She had a back injury that kept her out of the pool for five weeks, but did enough to make it to the trials. On one dive during the trials, she hit her hand on the board and received straight zeros, dropping to eighth place. With one dive remaining, a banged up Gossick needed a sterling performance on her final attempt and a little help from the other divers in the field if she was going to have a chance to make the Olympic team.
"When I hit the board, my arms from the elbows down were just totally destroyed, but I had to nail my final dive," Gossick said. "I had to get off that board, make some kind of entry and nail it, and I mean nail it. And I did and I placed third which qualified me for the Olympic team. All of the other girls just kind of freaked out and didn't do what they were suppose to do. I guess it was a magical dive."
Gossick racked up multiple honors and awards such as being named the youngest Woman of the Year ever by the Los Angeles Times, five-time AAU National Champion, four time Southern Pacific AAU's Springboard Diver of the Year, and medalist in 21 of 24 national springboard diving championships.
But none of them came close to the gold medal at the 1968 Olympic Games.
"Words can't express how that feeling is. It's just, it's overwhelming. I mean you put in all these years, but when you actually know you're the best in the world, it's really, it's to this day very hard for me to comprehend. It's unbelievable to me," Gossick said.
Gossick attributes a lot of her success to her coach Lyle Draves, and said he is one of the reasons she won gold. If she had him in 1964, she believes the gold would have been hers.
"He was a very patient man. It was just a chemistry we had," Gossick said. "He never once raised his voice to me and he would just say a couple things that would just register with me. He never said anything negative, he was always positive. He never had us working out eight hours a day. We had a life."
Gossick isn't involved with the sport any more even though she did try coaching. It was easier for her to physically show divers what to do, but she struggled to verbally communicate what was needed. So, Gossick is enjoying her life away from the diving board.
"I am a spa lady now. A diving board doesn't interest me at all anymore," Gossick said.