92nd Annual Manatee County Begins tomorrow

PALMETTO — By Thursday, the pool, platforms and 90-foot diving tower will be ready for Dana Kunze's "All-American High Diving Team" show on opening night of the 92nd annual Manatee County Fair.

On Tuesday, however, the show's namesake was busy assembling and spraypainting the remaining steel pipes and beams of what looked like a 10,000-pound erector set wedged into a corner of the crowded fairgrounds.

"This is the part you never see — every day twisting nuts and bolts," said Kunze, a 46-year-old Burnsville, Minn., resident, and a former world class diver who founded Watershow Productions Inc., in 1985. "It takes me three days to set up, but the payback is I enjoy watching kids laugh, having a good time out there. It's the only reason I still do it. I'm a big kid at heart myself."

One who thought nothing of diving off of Minnesota bridges spanning the Mississippi River, training for a successful career that saw him perform more than 25 times on ABC's popular "Wide World of Sports." Kunze was a professional high diver at 13, a world champion at 16, and won 15 world titles by the time he was 23. He set the world record for the highest dive — 172 feet — at San Diego's Sea World in 1984. He tied the mark in 1996.

"ABC clocked me at 98 mph when I hit the water," Kunze said. "Greg Louganis (ex-Olympic gold medalist diver) told me I was crazy." Starting Thursday, Kunze will lead a five-man team through a choreographed 20-minute show three times daily on weekdays, and four times this Saturday and Sunday. It features clown diving, Olympic-style springboard diving, gymnastics and a tower-dive finale.

"I've been coming to the fair since I was a kid, so this is a first for us," said fair manager Dan West. "It'll be neat." Perhaps a tad chilly, too, for Kunze's troupe of divers.

The water to fill the 30,000-gallon pool comes from a fairground fire hydrant. "So the temperature is whatever the water temperature in the ground is right now," Kunze said. "We've got wetsuits, but I suspect it may not be comfortable. But there were 5-foot snowbanks when I left Minneapolis to come down here, so I'm not complaining."

What: 92nd Annual Manatee County FairWhere: Manatee County Fairgrounds, 1303 17th St. W., PalmettoWhen: Thursday 5:30 p.m. through Jan. 27Ticket and other information: Call 722-1639