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Wednesday October 5, 2011

Olympic diver felt cheated out of a medal

Many felt she finished 5th at the Montreal Games in 1976 due to judging rules that worked against her

Whirling, somersaulting and "landing on her head," Cindy Shatto Weingartner filled the air with dynamic stunts as one of Canada's intrepid platform divers of the 1970s.

Most of her countrymen would shy away from the test of the 10-metre tower, but Shatto plunged 10 metres through space in a bid for glory at the Commonwealth, Pan American and Olympic Games. That is, when a diving platform was available. Sometimes, she had to improvise training facilities.

"It wasn't easy," her brother, Richard J. Shatto, said from Florida. "There was no platform for diving in Toronto, so she had to go north of the city, to Peterborough, and dive into a pond. She was living in a caboose of a train, but she would do that in her never-ending bid to get better."

Cindy Shatto - the nickname was short for Cinderella - died Sunday at the age of 53 after a two-year battle with lung cancer.

She began roller skating at 2, later took up acrobatics, baton-twirling and modern dance. To balance out her athletics, she studied the violin. She started diving into the family pool in the backyard and won her first Ontario championship at 8 in a one-metre event.

At 13, she moved to Winnipeg to work with her diving coach, Don Webb, and later to Pointe Claire, Que., when Webb moved to the swim club there. She practised five hours a day, six days a week and competed throughout Europe, the United States, Mexico, Australia and New Zealand.

In 1973, when she was 15, she represented Canada at the world championships in Yugoslavia. But her real breakthrough came in January of the next year in one of Canada's high points in the sport.

Shatto spearheaded a Canadian sweep of the three-metre

springboard event, winning the Commonwealth gold medal at Christchurch, N.Z. Canadians Bev Boys and Teri York won the silver and bronze.

"What we saw was a triumvirate of women who pushed each other to heights never before seen in Canadian diving," said Mitch Geller, chief technical officer for Diving Canada.

"She was a pioneer in the sport, who set the stage for divers who followed her for Canada, like Sylvie Bernier and Anne Montminy," he said. In 1984, Bernier won Olympic gold in platform; in 2000, Montminy won Olympic silver in platform synchronized diving and solo bronze.

"What she showed was that Canadians could be Olympic medalists. She also had a versatility to compete on both springboard and the 10-metre platform, which you don't see in the specialists of today," Geller said.

In 1976 in Montreal, Shatto was a member of Canada's Olympic team and finished fifth. Fifth in the world is a strong ranking, but it fell short of her dream.

Under international diving rules of the time, countries that placed divers in the finals also were allowed to have judges handling the scoring. The results were not considered impartial. Yelena Vaytsekhovskaya of the Soviet Union, Ulrika Knape of Sweden and Debbie Wilson of the United States took the medals.

"[Gold] was won by a Soviet but [observers] say I should have gotten a bronze or a silver," Cindy said in a Globe and Mail interview 10 years later. "Finishing fifth was a disappointment. I had worked so hard for the Olympics. I was peaking at the right time."

"There are those who say she could have been an Olympic medalist," Geller said. Rules were changed after the 1976 Games, but it was too late for her.

"It meant everything to me and I had put my whole life into diving," Shatto said. "I retired for a time, then tried to come back, but it wasn't the same. I had lost the competitive edge."

"What Cindy had was this bottled-up power, but she showed it as elegance when she dove," Geller said. "She had an aesthetic, a light manner in diving, arguably one of the best divers in the world. And her confident persona in diving was in contrast to how she carried herself outside the pool, which was unassuming and meek."

She was good at "landing on her head," which is the term used to describe divers creating as little turbulence and splash as possible when entering the water.

She was also a leader who looked after her teammates.

"She cared for them as she cared for family," said her brother. "She treated everyone with respect."

He added that his mother would take him to watch Cindy's daily practices. He learned determination watching her. "She put everything into diving. She was determined to be an Olympic diver from the age of nine."

Shatto had athletics in her blood. Her father, Canadian football Hall of Famer Dick Shatto, set team records (touchdowns and combined yards) as a running back with the Toronto Argonauts for 12 years. He retired in 1965, became the team's colour broadcaster and its general manager. He died of lung cancer in 2003.

A long-time resident of Florida, Shatto leaves her husband, Bill Weingartner, and sons Richard and Christopher.

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