Diver Wendy Wyland's Formula for Success Is Equal Parts Grace and Gumption

updated 06/18/1984 at 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 06/18/1984 01:00AM

If cuteness has a name, it must be Wendy Wyland. This winsome California blonde owns a smile of Pearl Drops perfection. Bubbling with spunk and charm, she giggles at herself, not to mention the legions of males bearing crushes on her. But once she dons her Speedo, Wendy's all business. The top-ranked platform diver in the world, Wyland, 19, is the odds-on favorite to win a pair of medals at the L.A. Games. She should pick up a gold in the platform (the diver takes off from a stationary deck on a 10-meter tower), and a gold or possibly silver in the three-meter springboard event.

Wyland's diving prevents her from enjoying many typical teenage activities, but she insists it doesn't matter. "Gosh," she says, "I don't go out very much. I don't enjoy partying. It doesn't do anything for me to see people drunk off their butts. People think I've made a lot of sacrifices. They look at me and say, 'Oh, she doesn't have a boyfriend.' What I say to them is that I never wanted that. I could have been a social butterfly in high school, but I chose not to. Maybe I've had tunnel vision ever since I was 14, but these are my goals. Diving is what I want to do. The only sacrifice I've made was giving up my family."

To pursue her sport, Wyland at 14½ left her parents, two sisters and brother, who were then living in Rochester, N.Y., and moved to California to train with Mission Viejo coach Ron O'Brien. A wrenching move, the separation was made even more painful by some unpleasant living situations. Wyland has boarded with various families over the past five years, one of which treated the homesick girl merely as a source of income. "They didn't care about my diving, they didn't care about me personally. It was just that I was giving them money," she notes bitterly. She now lives with Pam Sheek, a single mother of two, whom she considers a close friend.

Nevertheless, Wyland remained at Mission Viejo. Her sunny disposition belies the fact that she is a perfectionist who competes mercilessly against herself. "If Wendy has any glaring weakness," says coach O'Brien, "it's that her intensity sometimes gets in the way of where she's going."

Wyland credits her father, now a school superintendent in Pittsburgh, Pa., with fostering this hunger for perfection. "My dad would say, 'That's good, but I know you can do better,' whereas my mom would say, 'Oh, you got second. Great! Let's go shopping.' " Growing up, Wyland competed in the trampoline and swimming as well as diving, with her father, a former college football player, her biggest booster. "I was in three sports and was always going to meets, and he was always with me," she says. "I think he missed that when I moved."

A 1983 graduate of Mission Viejo High School, Wyland practices under O'Brien four times a week with five other top divers, including Greg Louganis, who is expected to win two golds, and 1982 world springboard champion Megan Neyer. Blessed with speed, strength and what she calls "cat sense," the 5'2", 110-lb. diver specializes in the 2½ pike (2½ somersaults with her legs straight) and the reverse tuck (2½ somersaults begun by flipping backward). Wyland concedes that she competes with a healthy dose of fear, but says that the death of a Soviet diver from a head injury (he struck the board while making a reverse 3½ somersault) last summer at the World University Games doesn't deter her. "I really believe he was trying a dive he couldn't do. Ron would never have me do a dive that he didn't feel I could make."

At present Wyland's green-eyed gaze is focused on simply making the Olympic team at the trials in Indianapolis next month. (There are four spots available—two in each event.) In addition to Neyer, 22, Wyland will be diving against Kelly McCormick, 24, the daughter of Patricia McCormick, who took double gold honors in diving at both the 1952 and 1956 Olympics. While the Soviet pullout affects the competition somewhat, China's Lu Wei presents the strongest threat in the platform event.

Come September Wyland enters USC on a full athletic scholarship where she plans to major in broadcast journalism, with a minor in sports psychology. She has no plans to stop diving. "I'm not done yet!" she exclaims, referring to the 1988 Olympics. "There's a little voice saying, 'This isn't enough, Wend!' "

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