Mark Lenzi struck gold when he switched from wrestling to diving in the mid-1980s.
Over the next decade, he became the 1992 Olympic 3-meter springboard champion, earned a bronze medal four years later in Atlanta and became the first driver to score 100 points on a single dive.
On Monday, Lenzi, the last American male diver to win Olympic gold, died at the age of 43 in Greenville, N.C.
Lenzi's alma mater, Indiana University, posted the announcement on its website but did not provide a cause of death. His mother, Ellie, told the family's hometown newspaper, The Free Lance-Star of Fredricksburg, Va., that Lenzi had been hospitalized the past two weeks because of fainting spells that were caused by low blood pressure.
“Mark came from a wrestling background and the goal of any wrestler is to pin you,” former Olympic teammate and current Texas diving coach Matt Scoggin told USA Diving. “When Mark got into a contest, he was going to pin you. I remember before his first World Cup, he was going to win 1-meter, I thought there was no way -- it was my third World Cup and I was still trying to get on the podium. He won. He was a very confident competitor.”
It almost didn't happen.
Lenzi was wrestling in high school when he was suddenly captivated by Greg Louganis' remarkable Olympics performance in 1984. Lenzi quickly changed sports and dove right into his new passion.
In 1989, he swept the Big Ten titles in the 1-meter, 3-meter and platform competitions, then went on to win the first of his back-to-back 1-meter national championships in `89. He was selected the NCAA's diver of the year in 1989 and 1990.
But Lenzi was just beginning to emerge on the international stage.
His victory on the 3-meter board at the Barcelona Olympics gave the Americans their third straight title in that event. Four years later, following a brief retirement, Lenzi earned an Olympic bronze medal.
No American male diver has won an Olympic diving medal since Lenzi in `96.
“Mark grabbed onto a dream,” Scoggin said. “He wasn't going to believe anything was impossible. It was amazing how rapidly he became an Olympic champion.”
Lenzi's impressive resume includes 18 international springboard championships. He was the first diver to score more than 700 points in an 11-dive competition on the 3-meter board and was the first American to successfully complete a forward, 4.5 somersault in competition.
“As an Olympic gold and bronze medalist, Mark was one of our country's greatest divers, and he will be missed tremendously,” USA Diving chairman Bob Rydze said in a statement posted on the organization's web site.
After his diving career ended, Lenzi went into coaching. He helped four divers win national age-group titles with Indiana's junior diving team and coached men's and women's divers at East Carolina from 2009-11.
Lenzi is survived by his wife, Dorothy, his mother, two brothers, one sister and his grandmother, Mary Cochran. Lenzi's funeral and viewing will be held Tuesday at Wilkerson Funeral Home in Greensville from 6 to 8 p.m.
“Mark and I spoke just a few weeks ago, my heart goes out to you,” Louganis wrote on the USA Diving web site. “There are no words to express how heartfelt a loss this is. Healing hugs, Greg.”