NEWS, NOTES &
The Bradsher Beat
Wednesday, April 11, 2012
By Bethany Bradsher
Nation's swimming community
respects in wake of Lenzi's passing
(ECU SID archives image)
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When former East Carolina diving coach Rich
McDonald left Greenville for the University of Virginia in 2009 and head
coach Rick Kobe opened the position, he received a flood of applications.
But only one was an Olympic champion.
Kobe felt that Mark Lenzi possessed the kind
of talent and passion for the sport that could motivate young divers. Kobe
hired Lenzi to lead the Pirate diving program, and in two seasons Lenzi saw
divers receive multiple Conference USA honors and qualify for the NCAA Zone
Then on Nov. 8, just a week after his ECU
divers swept a tri-meet against the College of Charleston and Georgia
Southern, Lenzi resigned from his coaching position, citing personal
In the five months since his departure, Kobe
lost touch with Lenzi, he said, and the longtime Pirate head coach was
completely stunned yesterday when he heard the news that Lenzi had died at
Vidant Medical Center at the age of 43.
“He had a big heart,” Kobe said after
attending Lenzi’s visitation in Greenville on Tuesday. “He was just a
really, really, really nice guy.”
One fellow swimmer called Lenzi “the essence
of the Cinderella story.” He captivated the diving community and then the
world in the 1990s when he medaled in two Olympic Games. After his death,
friends, coaches and competitors remembered Lenzi and his incredible will to
"The diving world has never seen anything like
him, and probably never will," Olympic teammate Scott Donie told Lenzi’s
hometown newspaper. "He came from out of nowhere, and in three years, he was
World Cup champion. That's unheard of. And within six years, he won the
Olympics. It was unbelievable."
A former high school wrestling champion, Lenzi
channeled his admiration for 80s diving phenom Greg Louganis into a change
of sports — and a meteoric rise in the diving world. He won the gold medal
in the 3-meter springboard in Barcelona in 1992 and then claimed a bronze in
the same event in Atlanta in 1996, making him the last American to medal in
In addition to his Olympic exploits, Lenzi was
the first American diver to perform a 109C (forward 4.5 somersault tuck) in
competition and the first diver to score more than 100 points in
competition. Lenzi won a total of 18 international competitions at the 1-
and 3-meter springboard level.
After his competitive run concluded, Lenzi
tried to jumpstart a coaching career with stints leading Indiana’s junior
diving team and then, in 2009, a move south to Eastern North Carolina to try
his hand at collegiate coaching.
From his office in the Ward Building, media
relations director Tom McClellan fielded calls from national media outlets
all day on Tuesday — reporters and producers drawn by the appeal of Lenzi’s
journey from triumph to tragedy. Because early reports included no details
about Lenzi’s cause of death, the media requests were also consumed by the
mystery of a former world-class athlete dying suddenly at such a young age.
Lenzi’s mother Ellie told the Fredericksburg
(VA) Free-Lance Star that her son had been hospitalized three weeks ago
because of fainting spells caused by low blood pressure. While he was
hospitalized, he lost consciousness and never regained it, and his brother
told the paper said that his death was caused by internal bleeding.
The visitation for Lenzi at Wilkerson Funeral
Home was held just one day after his death, but despite the short notice the
room was filled with people from all over the swimming community who came to
Greenville to pay their respects, Kobe said. From his hometown of
Fredericksburg to his alma mater of Indiana, Lenzi’s accomplishments,
intensity and good nature drew a crowd of people who couldn’t miss the
chance to pay their respects.
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04/11/2012 05:17 AM