Thursday, 4 October 2012

Don Liebermann

The foresight of a gymnastics master, who spotted an unusual depth of talent in a ten-year-old Nettleton schoolboy, marked the beginning of a spectacular diving career that was to culminate in total dominance of the sport in Southern Africa.

The boy in question was Don Liebermann, who showed an aptitude for gymnastics and was persuaded by the schoolmaster to try diving. Initially it was a lot of hard work with little reward, but less than four years later, the young Liebermann was chosen to represent Mashonaland.

At the age of fifteen he made his first attempt at the Rhodesian championships and won the boys' three-metre title (1964). In the one-metre event he finished a creditable second to George Stirling.

That was the start of Liebermann's eventual dominance of Rhodesian and South African diving, a dominance that spanned eight years, during which time he was Rhodesian champion sixteen times and South African champion twelve times between 1968 and 1975.

Once in the senior ranks. Liebermann became a serious challenge to the established Rhodesian champion, Terry Rossiter. and their rivalry was intense although they were good friends. In 1965, Liebermann was selected for the Rhodesian team for the South African championships at Salisbury and, still feeling his way up the ladder, gained only one third place and that was in the one-metre

He fared better in the following year at Durban where the Rhodesian men cleaned up. But Rossiter still had the edge over his younger team-mate and Liebermann had to be content with second places in both the one and three-metre events.

Liebermann's first great triumph was at Johannesburg in 1967. There, he won the South African one-, and three-metre crowns, beating Ross ter in both events. He repeated the feat at Bloemtontein in 1968 but a little of the icing was missing from the cake — Rossiter had not competed, which had made things a lot easier.

Rossiter returned in 1969 to take the three-metre title from Liebermann at Cape Town, but Don won the one-metre event.

In 1966 Don was selected to go to the United Kingdom with the Rhodesian team and competed in the British championships at the Crystal Palace where he was placed sixth in both the three and ten-metre events.

Liebermann's rivalry with Rossiter was a helpful factor. "We pushed one another to greater effort and greater achievement," he said. A similar sort of relationship was to develop between Don and his cousin, Robin Liebermann, in the 1970s, when Robin rapidly developed as a diver of exceptional ability. At Pretoria in 1970 Don won both titles, beating Robin into second place, and at Cape Town the following year he repeated the 'double'.

At Port Elizabeth in 1972 the cousins fought an absorbing battle but had to share the honours, Don taking the one-metre title and Robin the three-metre. Bulawayo was the venue for the 1973 championships and Robin came to light, beating Don into second place in the one-metre, and third place in the three-metre events.

Rhodesian divers did not compete in the 1974 South African championships because of a split in the South African administration, and that probably denied Liebermann two more titles. But he made no mistake in 1975 when the Rhodesians again competed in the South African championships and he carried off both titles.

There were disappointments in Liebermann's career. His greatest ambition — to dive at the Olympics — was thwarted on two occasions. In 1968 he was selected for the Rhodesian team to compete in the Mexico Olympics, but the trip to Mexico City was called off after the Mexican Government refused to grant visas.

Again in 1972, Liebermann was a member of the ill-fated Rhodesian team which travelled to Munich for the Olympics only to be kept out at the last minute by politics.

By then, international competition was becoming more and more difficult for Rhodesia and the decision by the international body, FINA, to expel Rhodesia in 1973 ended any chance which Liebermann may have had to test his talent in recognised competition against the world's best.

Throughout his domination of Southern African diving, Liebermann scored totals which put him well into world class. In unofficial Rhodesian competitions after the expulsion from FINA, top overseas divers often came in by the 'back door' and competed against Rhodesian divers.

In 1974, Liebermann beat former West German champion Rolf Kantuser at the Les Brown Baths off high board, and made history in the process. His final dive was a forward three and a half somersault piked, never before performed in Rhodesian competition. It carried a degree of difficulty of 2,9 and Liebermann gathered enough points from the dive to beat Kantuser.

The next year Liebermann beat American collegiate champion Cal Loock, also off high board, and set a record score in Southern Africa for a Rhodesian for one dive. He executed a near perfect inward two and a half somersault to gather 70,20 points. A week later Liebermann again beat Loock and also beat Kantuser.

An offer of a physical education scholarship at the University of Texas at Arlington took Liebermann away from Rhodesia in September 1975 and confirmed the high esteem in which he was held.

After a year at Arlington, he transferred to Simon Fraser University at Vancouver, British Columbia, where he was asked to coach the university's diving squad.

In 1979, when one of the team was forced to withdraw from the Canadian inter-varsities diving championships, the remainder of the team persuaded Don to dive. Rusty though he was through lack of consistent practice, Don was still good enough to win the individual championship — an excellent achievement for a thirty-one-year-old considering most divers peak in their late teens and early twenties.

The person most responsible for Don's success was his coach, Mrs. Pat Morgenrood, who worked with him from late 1963 to 1973. Don is perhaps the greatest-ever diver from Rhodesia and was in his prime in the 1970-71 seasons: his best ever 581,05 points in the one-metre event in 1970, is 62 points higher than anyone else has ever achieved. Don was a Sportsman of the Year finalist in 1971.



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At 14 October 2012 at 01:21 , Blogger Rhodesia Remembered said...

Tony Smith (RhAF) Writes:-

Both Don and Robin Lieberman were TF's in Dog section. I think it was Robin who shot a "mombe" (cow) one night on the Centenary airfield with the MAG!


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