Olympic gold medalist shares her story at library
There were no guarantees when Micki King continued her Olympic journey to pursue a gold medal at the 1972 Games in Munich, Germany. Yet after breaking an arm and falling short of the podium during the 1968 Games, King knew she at least had to try.
The now-retired former University of Kentucky assistant athletics director shared her story during Coffee Club at the Woodford County Library last Friday, Aug. 3.
“Wow, this is fun for me,” King says laughing. “I guess I like bragging about myself.”
Besides sharing memories of competing in the Olympics, crying after receiving her medal (with her name misspelled Nicki) and her role in helping to break ground for women in diving, King discussed two history-changing events.
American gold medalist Tommie Smith and bronze medalist John Carlos each raised a black-gloved fist in protest during the National Anthem of their medal ceremony in ’68.
“It was a national protest to bring attention to the awful stuff that was going on at home” during the tumultuous 1960s, King says.
She also shared her thoughts about the ’72 Games moving forward under the cloud of Palestinian terrorists taking 11 Israeli athletes hostage and then killing them.
“That bubble (separating politics and the Games) was totally burst open – and the Olympics have never been the same since that happened in Munich,” says King, 74.
She no longer dives, but still appreciates what she accomplished in Munich more than four decades ago. “That day,” she says, “I was the best in the world…”
Growing up in Michigan, King says her family spent their summers on a lake having “a blast.” She and her sister, along with two cousins, learned to scuba dive, swam alongside fish and searched for sunken treasures during those summers.
Girls’ Night at the local YMCA was an opportunity for a 10-year-old King to get into the water during long, cold, boring winters in Pontiac, she says.
The horrendous smell of chlorine hit her as she entered the YMCA’s pool area. She didn’t know what to expect, but says, “I didn’t expect antiseptic.”
“I could see the bottom (of the pool). There wasn’t any fish. There wasn’t any seaweed growing there,” King remembers, “… What’s the fun of this?”
The only interesting thing she saw was a diving board at the other end of the pool. Doing flips and having fun playing on the board would consume her winters for the next five years.
Formal training did not begin until age 15 when a lifeguard (a high school diver – one of only a few black divers in the sport), “started kind of coaching” King and some of the other girls, she says.
King, who will never forget telling her mom, “I did a front somersault tuck today,” says, “Had this young man not been the lifeguard that year, how different would my life be?”
Soon, she was competing in AAU diving meets and earning scores. But this was the 1950s and ‘60s – before Title IX – so there were no high school dive teams for girls.
Fortunately, the coach of the boys’ team allowed King to practice with his team for her AAU meets, but she couldn’t represent her high school. “After all of their meets,” she remembers, “I had the privilege – and I was so danged proud of this… of picking up the towels after the boys… because I was a part of the team.”
By 1962, King was making the difficult decision to continue her education as a student and a diver at the University of Michigan instead of Michigan State University, where her friends were going. She still remembers her parents telling her, “If you want to be a diver, you need to go where the coach was…”
U of M Coach Dick Kimball, an NCAA springboard champion and pro diving champion, became her mentor over the next four years. “That’s one thing that I think that Coach Kimball taught me is that high degree of difficulty,” says King. Her dives were typically more difficult than her competitors so she had a better chance to earn a higher score.
“I pioneered a couple dives,” she continues. “… I was the first woman off the 10 meter – 30-foot high… (springboard) to ever do a back one-and-half somersault, two-and-a-half twist.”
After graduating from the University of Michigan in 1966, King joined the United States Air Force with an ROTC attachment at U of M where she could continue her training under Coach Kimball leading up to the 1968 Olympic Games in Mexico City. For her, she says, “The moon and the stars lined up once more.”
Remarkably while competing against the best divers in the world in the ’68 Olympics, King was ahead going into the final round of dives.
She broke her arm on the board during her second-to-last dive and dropped to fourth place after her final dive – self-described as her “spaghetti dive.”
“So I went home with a cast on my arm for a souvenir instead of a medal,” King says.
It was four more years before she found redemption at the 1972 summer Olympics in Munich – winning gold in the three meter springboard diving event.