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By Joe Lanane

ELWOOD — Becoming an Olympic athlete requires years of dedication and training, and 15-year-old Mary Beth Dunnichay of Elwood is no exception. After six years of strenuous effort, she will officially realize her dream in Beijing this August as a member of the United States Diving Team.

The call from her coach came at approximately 11 a.m. Monday, about an hour later than the final decision was anticipated. Mary Beth’s mother, Marian Dunnichay, said her daughter was in good spirits leading up to the announcement despite the elongated response time, but the enormity of the situation is yet to fully take effect.

“We knew we did everything we could,” Mary Beth said regarding last week’s Olympic Team Selection Camp in Knoxville, Tenn., where she helped seal her fate as a member of the synchronized women’s platform diving duo. “It’s amazing — still hard to believe.”

Mary Beth and partner Haley Ishimatsu rallied from down 23 points heading into Friday’s fourth and final round of competition to capture an 11-point advantage over the next pair.

Her brother, Caleb, dives at the collegiate level at the University of Notre Dame after recently transferring from Auburn University. In superstitious fashion, he waited outside the facility in Knoxville before finding out his sister’s 346.98 score on Friday.

“I knew (she made the Olympics team) when they told me the score — that score was huge,” Caleb said. “They could win a medal if they do that again.”

The win capped two years’ worth of success for her and Ishimatsu, both of whom have also competed internationally together at the World Championships in Australia two years ago and at the World Cup in Beijing last March.

Their efforts helped ensure an Olympic spot for the U.S. team in the event, and ultimately helped land Mary Beth and Ishimatsu as the two divers to fill that void. Despite the excitement of the situation, Mary Beth said she is careful to not settle for simply making the summer games.

“It’s always been what we’ve been working for, but it’s not over yet,” Mary Beth said, insisting the challenge has just begun. “We have to go back and start to train even harder because to get a medal at the Olympics is going to take a lot.”

Still, Mary Beth said her family has always been supportive regardless of her success. Even before the official announcement, she was greeted upon her return from Tennessee on Friday with fireworks outside her house.

“The whole neighborhood was waiting in the driveway when (Mary Beth) pulled in,” Marian Dunnichay said before putting the accomplishment in perspective. “It’s hard to believe she can’t drive a car yet, but she’s going to go to the Olympics.”

The celebration culminated years of effort from not only Mary Beth, but also for the family and friends who have helped her along the way. Her sister, Danielle, attends IUPUI and frequently housed Mary Beth at her Indianapolis apartment between practices. Also, her brother Jacob serves as one of her strongest support beams at home as he prepares to enter his senior year at Elwood High School.

“She’s really been wanting it forever, and all the drives down (to Indianapolis) and staying at my apartment have really paid off,” Danielle said. “I used to go over and watch her in between classes and go pick her up … but we’re real close and I wouldn’t miss a meet for anything.”

Mary Beth’s father, Ned, said Marian has been instrumental to his youngest daughter’s success while he’s running the Dunnichay Funeral Home in Elwood. He is also Madison County coroner.

“Since I’m trying to work and take care of the business, I rely on my wife to take care of a lot,” Ned said. “We have a good family nucleus, and we all know each other’s strengths and weaknesses.”

Mary Beth will travel to Pasadena, Calif., on July 23 for the final national competition — which is still undetermined if she will compete — before departing for Beijing on July 30. The Olympics synchronized women’s platform diving competition is expected to take place Aug. 12.

Road to the Olympics timeline:

July 9-22: Daily training resumes in Indianapolis

July 23: Depart for U.S. Nationals in Pasadena, Calif.

July 28: Travel to San Jose, Calif., for Olympics processing

July 30: Depart for Beijing, China

Aug. 8: Summer Olympics opening ceremony

Aug. 10-23: U.S. Diving competition commences

Aug. 24: Closing ceremonies

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By Joe Lanane
ELWOOD — There is only one moment in town history that Elwood resident Dave Berkemeier can liken to Mary Beth Dunnichay’s Olympics entry announced on Monday. Overall, he said, this marks the most historic point for the community since Wendell Willkie announced on Aug. 17, 1940, in his hometown of Elwood, that he would accept the Republican presidential nomination.

“This has to be up there with that,” Berkemeier said, calling this a “red-banner year for Elwood” after Dunnichay’s success and the high school’s recent 2A state runner-up performance in baseball. “Just thinking about (having an Elwood resident in the Olympics) gives me goose bumps.”

While Willkie eventually lost to two-term incumbent Franklin D. Roosevelt later that year, Elwood residents hope for a more favorable outcome for Dunnichay.

Regardless of outcome, however, Elwood Mayor Merrill Taylor said there is a great deal of town pride to be had for the 15-year-old standout who still calls him “Papa.”

“I remember when Mary Beth was just a baby, and she’s just been something kind of special ever since she was born,” Taylor said. “For her to mature into the young lady she is and go on into the type of fame she’s going to have in her life, Elwood needs to be very, very, very proud of this young lady.”

It did not take long for word to spread throughout the 9,700 residents of Elwood.

Friendly’s Restaurant, 2115 Main St., has been the breakfast getaway every Sunday for Mary Beth and the Dunnichay family after church services. Megan Coubert, server at Friendly’s for 12 years, said she has seen Dunnichay grow up before her very eyes each week.

“We’ve been telling everybody that comes in (about the news) — everyone’s really excited,” Coubert said. “The whole town pulled behind the baseball team, and I imagine the same will happen for (Dunnichay).”

The Olympics fever is already catching on in Elwood, as banners, yard signs and even hula hoops in the form of the Olympics rings have graced the community. Berkemeier said he also hopes to have the window of his Edward Jones Investments’ office painted with red, white and blue before too long.

“We need to tell everyone 1,000 miles outside of here on each side that she’s from Elwood,” Berkemeier said.

By ED HAMILTON
Call-Leader Sports Editor
Oh baby! Their baby is going to the Olympics.

Like expectant parents, Ned and Marian Dunnichay waited and waited, then waited some more, this morning to learn if their youngest child, 15-year-old Mary Beth, had been selected for the United States Olympic Diving Team.

“Yes, it is like having a baby, only worse,” Marian said while awaiting an email from USA Diving officials. “With a baby, you’re sure of the outcome, a boy or a girl.”
They learned the outcome shortly after 11 this morning when the email arrived just as Mary Beth received a call from her coach, John Wingfield.
Even Wingfield, also chosen as the head coach of the U.S. team for the Beijing Olympics, teased her for a moment before sharing the good news.
“He called me and he said, ‘Have you heard anything yet?’,” said Mary Beth.
“I said, ‘Not yet, but I’ve been sitting by the computer.’
“So he said, “OK, well I’ll send you the email that I got.’
“He just sounded normal, and I was like, ‘Well, is it bad or good; give me a hint.
“And he goes, ‘Well, what do you want me to say?’
“And I was like, ‘Uh oh…’
“And then he just said, ‘You’re an Olympian,’ and I started crying.”
Her family members and friends heard her cry in the hallway outside the office where they were awaiting the news, and not knowing if they were tears of joy or disappointment, rushed to her side.
At that moment, older brother Caleb and her father saw the email on the computer screen.
“There it is. There it is,” said Ned. “She made it; she made the team.”
Dunnichay and fellow 15-year-old Haley Ishimatsu will represent the U.S. as the women’s 10-meter platform synchronized team in Beijing.
The Olympics run from Aug. 8-24. The diving competition will be from Aug. 10-23.
Dunnichay and Ishimatsu will compete Saturday, Aug. 12, probably in front of 30 or more family members and friends who are making plans to join her in Beijing.
Mary Beth is the first Olympian from Elwood, and quite possibly from all of Madison County.
“I got chills, lots of chills when I saw that (email),” said her father.
“We’re crying, we’re laughing, everything,” said her mother. “Mary Beth has put in so much hard work, sacrificed the nights when she couldn’t go do stuff with her friends, having to get up early for practice, and miss (her brother’s) ballgames. She’s had to sacrifice so many things.
Everyone of them was worth it, said the 5-foot Olympian, who won’t turn 16 until Feb. 25, 2009.
“This is just awesome,” Mary Beth said after drying the tears. “But it was so stressful waiting for that (email and call) this morning.
“My mom wanted me to get up early and come (to the Dunnichay Funeral Home) early, but I didn’t want to get here too early and just have to sit around and wait. I wanted to sleep in to the last minute possible.”
She got there shortly before 10 a.m., because that’s when the family expected the email to arrive.
At about 10:15, they got in touch by phone with Wingfield, who told them the announcement wouldn’t come until 11.
Some of the family went out for breakfast, then returned to wait some more.
“When they pushed it back, it meant just a longer wait,” said Mary Beth. Something akin to her and Ishimatsu standing on the platform for 45 minutes last Wednesday while computer problems delayed the competition at selection camp in Knoxville, Tenn.
That’s the night the Olympians went 1-2 against their top competition for the Beijing spots, Laura Wilkinson and Jessica Livingston.
But in Friday’s final competition, Dunnichay and Ishimatsu hit their five dives for an all-time best of 346.98, beating Wilkinson and Livingston’s 335.34.
That 2-2 deadlock after four lists left it up to the selectors to decide the Olympic synchro team.
“We knew it could have gone the other way (the decision),” said Mary Beth. “The first day, they won the two out of the three, so we had one more chance on Friday.
“We had one more chance to prove that we not only could dive under pressure, but that we deserved our spot. And we went in there and stayed calm and confident and we proved to everyone, I guess.”
The family didn’t have any doubts, but they were doing everything they could to avoid jinxing the outcome until this morning.
“For everything my family has been through with me, taking me to practice everyday, going to my competitions, just always being there, it’s finally paying off. Like I said, it’s just awesome.”
She gets today and Tuesday off, then it’s back in the pool Wednesday at the IU Natatorium.
Before the Olympics, the divers may compete in the U.S. Nationals July 22-27 in Pasadena, Calif.
“We haven’t talked about that yet, so I don’t know yet,” said Dunnichay.
She does know where she and her family and friends will be tonight at 7. On an Elwood fire truck for a parade through town, starting at the high school.
City officials are encouraging residents to gather at the high school before 7 to form a caravan behind the fire truck, or for residents to line Anderson Street to the south edge of the city to celebrate with the Dunnichays, whose baby is going to the Olympics.

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