Long Beach diving legend Pat McCormick died at 92 years old due to natural causes on Tuesday evening, according to her family.
McCormick was one of the greatest athletes in Long Beach history and a member of several local, national and international halls of fame—and is still the only female double-double gold medal diver in Olympic history.
McCormick was born on May 12, 1930, and grew up in Naples, where she would swim in the canals and practice diving off the bridges, becoming something of a local celebrity while still a child.
“She was remarkable. She’d be in high school diving off of the bridges,” said Rich Foster, Long Beach aquatic historian and former vice president of World Aquatics. “She had a specialty where she’d try to get the boat owners driving by wet. They’d call the Harbor Patrol, and they already knew who it was. She’d be banned from the beach for a week, and that wouldn’t stop her.”
McCormick’s love of the water and her fearlessness served her well, as she began competing as a youth athlete, trying and successfully executing dives that weren’t yet allowed in competition for female divers. The Wilson High School, Long Beach City College and Long Beach State graduate reached international fame at the 1952 and 1956 Olympics in Helsinki and Melbourne. McCormick made history still unmatched when she won the individual gold medal for both springboard and platform diving at back-to-back Olympics.
In 1956, she won the James E. Sullivan Trophy, awarded annually to the best amateur athlete in the country, becoming just the second woman to win that honor. The list of McCormick’s accolades almost stretches credulity: she is a member of the International Swimming Hall of Fame, US Diving Hall of Fame, US Olympic Hall of Fame, Wilson Hall of Fame, LBCC Hall of Fame, Aquatic Capital of America Hall of Fame and the Long Beach Century Club Hall of Fame.
“How many athletes are included in that many halls of fame?” said Foster with a laugh.
McCormick and husband/coach Glenn had two children, Kelly and Tim, and raised their family in nearby Rossmoor. Kelly made her own history as a two-time Olympic diver, winning a silver in 1984 and a bronze in 1988.
Kelly said it was hard following in her mother’s footsteps as a diving Olympian, because her legacy loomed so large.
“I always wanted to be an Olympian, but I always wanted to be a gymnast so I wouldn’t be in her shadow,” she said.
She made the switch at 13 years old and began training in her parents’ backyard in Rossmoor.
“We had shows in the backyard, we had bleachers, three rows of bleachers and people would come watch,” said Kelly. “We’d sell tickets and the proceeds would go to charity.”
She added that while her mother was known for being a world-class diver, she also owned a horse and competed in jumping equestrian events, and was a skilled golfer as well.
Pat McCormick’s involvement in diving, though, did not end with her career and transition into family life. She was part of the organizing committee for the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles and took particular pride in the events that took place in Long Beach. She also founded Pat’s Champs, a nonprofit foundation that helped send her to schools all over the country to talk to school-aged children about goal-setting and dreaming.
Foster represented McCormick as her lawyer for a decade and said that her foundation became a true passion for her.
“She really loved going to schools and talking to kids,” he said. “She talked to thousands of them and the kids just loved her. They all really responded when she’d come talk.”
Kelly also shared that her mom’s heart was fully invested in Pat’s Champs.
“She really cared about those kids and loved helping out with low-income families,” she said.
Foster, meanwhile, said he’s always touched by how well-loved McCormick has been, even at this point, six decades removed from her athletic career.
“I took her to speak to the Long Beach Century Club five or seven years ago, and she had the place enthralled,” he said. “It was the only time I’ve ever seen the Century Club give anyone a standing ovation.”
Editor’s note: This story has been updated to correct McCormick’s status as the only female double-double gold medal diver in Olympic history and to provide more information from Kelly McCormick Robertson.