Forgotten man: ASU diving coach was next man up after Greg Louganis hit head at 1988 Olympics

Posted at 3:50 PM, Jul 07, 2016
and last updated 2016-07-20 19:15:43-04

Right or wrong, the most enduring memory of the 1988 Summer Olympics is the diving accident suffered by American Greg Louganis.

During the 3-meter springboard competition, the four-time Olympic gold medalist caused gasps around the world when he hit his head on the edge of the diving board while attempting a reverse somersault.

Naturally, few people remember the next man to step on the diving board after that accident.

Meet Mark Bradshaw. He was Louganis' teammate at the 1988 Summer Games, and he's been the Arizona State Sun Devils' diving coach for the last 15 years.

"The term 'surreal' gets used a lot, but that's all I can think," said Bradshaw about what happened on that day in Seoul, South Korea 28 years ago.

Louganis' story has been told countless times, especially after his revelation in 1995 that he was HIV-positive during the '88 Games. 

"I didn't know what was going on. I just stepped off the board for a moment to wait until everybody got calm."

Bradshaw's story is less dramatic, but it's just as fascinating.

"I actually wasn't competing very well at the time. It was the preliminaries. I was diving terrible," he said. "And then, the world's greatest diver ever hits his head on the board right in front of me."

At first, Bradshaw didn't think the accident was a big deal. Louganis had suffered a concussion, but of course Bradshaw didn't know that as he watched his teammate leave the pool under his own power.

"Once the diver in front of you goes, it's fairly quick because they announce the scores, and then it's the next diver," he said.

"I was already setting myself to go, and I was standing there not really knowing exactly what to do because he got out of the water on his own, and I assumed it was going to start right back up again."

Instead, the event came to a halt for an extended period as Louganis received multiple stitches in his head.

The delay gave Bradshaw something most athletes don't want: extra time to think.

"People were just shocked by the fact that not only (did a diver hit his head), it was Greg Louganis," Bradshaw said. 

"I didn't know what was going on. I just stepped off the board for a moment to relax and wait until everybody got calm ... I was like, 'OK, I've got to stay on my task here.'"

Fate seemed to be conspiring against Bradshaw. A series of sub-par dives had him on pace to miss the cut for the 3-meter springboard finals, and the sight of his teammate's injury -- not to mention the extended time he was forced to think about his next dive -- threatened to psych him out.

"For whatever reason, it snapped me out of the little funk I was in."

But when his turn finally arrived, Bradshaw used the incident as a springboard that would turn his Olympics around.

"I went out to the end of the board. There was some hair there (from Louganis), so I had to kind of kick it off and walk back, got myself settled and went," he said. 

Bradshaw executed an outstanding dive that included 2 1/2 somersaults and a pair of twists.

"For whatever reason, it snapped me out of the little funk I was in, and I finished my last three dives much better and made the cut pretty easily," he said.

Bradshaw didn't medal, but he advanced to the finals and jumped all the way from 20th place to fifth in the final standings.

The more famous story, of course, is that of Louganis, who made a full recovery and went on to ewin the gold medal in the 3-meter event.

But Bradshaw, who has coached seven athletes to 23 combined conference championships at ASU, wants you to know there was more than one American diver who overcame adversity that day.

"Like I said, it had an effect for me that was positive," he said. "It's tough separation (mentally), but you gotta do it."