April 10, 2012, - 1:45 pm
As many readers may know, in my previous life I was a sports agent and represented pro athletes in various sports from the NHL to Olympic individual sports. In 1996, I was representing Olympic divers on Team USA, and I met and briefly got to know Mark Lenzi, the Olympic Gold Medal Diver who was the last American male diver to ever win a Gold Medal in a sport now dominated by the Chinese. Sadly, he died yesterday, at the very young age of 43, concluding two weeks of hospitalization for low blood pressure.
I Was There: Mark Lenzi (Left) & Scott Donie (Right) @ U.S. Olympic Diving Trials Celebrating Making Team USA to the Olympics
In 1996, I represented U.S. Silver Medalist Scott Donie at the Atlanta Olympic Games. That summer, I met Lenzi at the Team USA Olympic trials in Indianapolis. He and my client were competing to be among the two finalists to represent Team USA in Atlanta. A lot of people hated Mark because he wasn’t only cocky, but he could back it up with fantastic dives. There was a great deal of professional jealousy of him among the divers. He’d won a Gold Medal and had retired, and now he was coming back to “take” a spot from an up-and-comer–that was the thinking from the haters. But he was good at what he did, and he and my client were the final two and they made it to Atlanta (and I got my client a cool centerfold in Sports Illustrated). He’d won a Gold Medal in the 1992 Barcelona Olympics, and my client won the Silver there. And together, they went, again, to Atlanta, where Mark won a Bronze Medal. And, yes, contrary to popular opinion that divers are gay–both of these guys were straight.
Mark’s story is interesting because he was a wrestler in high school and switched to diving because he saw Greg Louganis on TV winning the Gold Medal. His father was upset, in part because people make the mistake of thinking diving isn’t a very masculine sport (it’s like gymnastics, and these guys are quite tough and strong). After a falling out over this, Mark moved out of his parents’ home for two weeks. But he and his father made their peace, and his father was proud when his son’s diving career took off. Mark was a two-time NCAA diving champ, in addition to winning the Olympic Gold Medal.
Because the successful divers, like Mark, are short, some people said he was Napoleonic. But I didn’t agree. Despite his cockiness, I liked Mark Lenzi because he was smart and had spunk. And he had a sharp, entrepreneurial mind. After the Olympics, I briefly talked with him and his agent and some USA Diving people about putting together a pro diving tour. Market research had shown that synchronized dives in a “Cirque Du Soleil”-style show would be a success (and many former divers, such as my friend Cuban defector Rio Ramirez, go on to become Cirque performers). And Mark and others in USA Diving felt this was a way to bring some good PR and money to men’s diving in America, on the decline due to feminist Title IX rules, which led many top universities (like UCLA) to dump their men’s diving and swimming programs.
But, despite Mark’s enthusiasm, it never took off because of the logistics of having an audience at a pool and generating enough interest. I remember at the Olympics how proud he was to represent America and win another Olympic Medal.
In later years, he went on–as many former Olympic divers do–to become a commentator and diving coach.
Say a prayer for his wife and family.
Mark Lenzi, Rest In Peace.
Tags: '96 Olympic Games, 1996 Atlanta Games, 1996 Olympics, diver, diving, Mark Lenzi, Mark Lenzi RIP, men's diving, my life as a sports agent, Olympic Diving Gold Medalist, Rio Ramirez, Scott Donie, U.S. Olympic Diver, US Olympic Diving Team, USA Diving, wrestling