Elena Vaitsekhovskaia (URS)
Honor Diver (1992)
FOR THE RECORD: OLYMPIC GAMES: 1976, gold (platform); EUROPEAN CHAMPIONSHIPS: 1974, bronze (platform); 1977, silver (platform).
Elena Vaitsekhovskaia of Russia surprised the world in 1976 when she won the platform diving gold medal at the 1976 Olympic Games in Montreal. She had to beat the defending champion Ulrike Knape of Sweden to do it.
“I didn’t think I would win”, said the shy, young diver. “Here in Montreal, the fans are cheering for the Canadians and Americans”.
The finals were extremely close with never more than nine points separating the first six divers through the four compulsory dives. Amazingly, after five dives only three points separated first place Irina Kalanina of the Soviet Union from sixth place Melissa Briley of the United States.
On the sixth dive, Elena took the lead, five points ahead of Debbie Wilson of the U.S.A. and seven ahead of Knape. Going into the seventh and final dive, Elena and three other divers were within less than eight points of each other.
Ulrika Knape then performed like a defending gold medalist should, scoring a whopping 68.18 points on an inward 2 1/2 somersault to vault in to a close second place position. The pressure was on Elena to perform the same dive. She coolly and calmly stepped up and hit the dive to become the first Russian woman to win a gold medal in Olympic competition history. Knape took the silver and Debbie Wilson the bronze.
Elena had entered the international scene in 1974 at the European Championship when she placed third on the platform, helping her team win the Fern Cup for most points scored in men’s’ and women’s diving. Following the Olympics in Montreal, she competed one more time in 1977 at the European Championships, placing second and beating teammate Irina Kalanina, who went on to win the Springboard event in the 1980 Moscow Olympics.
Elena is currently a diving publicist for television and the media.