Olympic Diving Trials: Blockbuster

By Aimee Berg | June 24, 2012, 7:30 p.m. (ET)

2012 U.S. Olympic Diving TeamThe 2012 U.S. Olympic Diving Team (L-R: Bell, Viola, Colwill, Loukas, Krug, Ipsen, Dumais, Boudia, McCrory, Johnston, Bryant)

FEDERAL WAY, WASH. – The 2012 U.S. Olympic Diving Trials, which ended on Sunday, featured all the markings of a summer blockbuster.  It had a riveting chase scene, a major blowout, a three-way sibling rivalry, a tearful farewell, and a look deep into the future.

2012 U.S. Olympic Diving Qualifiers:

Women
Katie Bell (10m individual), age 24
*Kelci Bryant (3m synchro), age 23
Abby Johnston (3m synchro), age 22
Cassidy Krug (3m individual), age 26
*Christina Loukas (3m individual), age 26
Brittany Viola (10m individual), age 25

Men
*David Boudia (10m individual, 10m synchro), age 23
*Chris Colwill (3m individual), age 27
*Troy Dumais (3m individual, 3m synchro), age 32
Kristian Ipsen (3m synchro), age 19
Nick McCrory (10m individual, 10m synchro), age 20

* denotes previous Olympic experience

* Troy Dumais earned the chance to become the first American male diver to compete in four Olympics and will compete in both springboard events in London (individual and synchro).

* David Boudia and Nick McCrory left no question who the faces of U.S. platform diving are.

* Persistence paid for Brittany Viola (10m) and Cassidy Krug (3m) who qualified for an Olympic team on their third tries.

* Somewhat surprisingly, 10m standout Thomas Finchum said goodbye to the sport – at least for now. He is 22.

In the end, 11 divers qualified for London– six of them for the first time. For a closer look at each scene, read on.


INDIVIDUAL EVENTS:

3m Springboard – Women… 26-Year-Olds Qualify

Cassidy Krug led this event from start to finish and made her first Olympic team in her third try, at 26. The Stanford alumna, ex-gymnast, and daughter of two diving coaches had been chasing the Olympic dream since she was 3. Last October, she took silver at the Pan Am Games in Guadalajara, Mexico. “I couldn’t have asked for a better day,” Krug said after her Trials victory on Saturday.

Runner-up Christina Loukas qualified for her second Olympic team and said she dove relatively pressure-free: “I knew I had a cushion going into this [final] meet so I didn’t stress about it.” Last year, Loukas placed fourth at the world championships in Shanghai – the best finish by an American woman in this event at worlds since 1994. It has been even longer, however, since the U.S. has earned an Olympic medal in women’s 3m springboard. The last American to do so was Kelly McCormick, in 1988, when she claimed bronze in Seoul, South Korea.

3m Springboard – Men… Barnburner!

Entering the final, the top three were separated by 42.65 points but the gap gradually tightened and the order started shuffling in the third round. Before the sixth and final dive, just 2.40 points separated Chris Colwill, Troy Dumais and Kristian Ipsen, in that order. Colwill had begun the day in third place and did not qualify for the Olympic synchro event so it was do-or-die for the 2008 Olympian who has 60% hearing loss. On his last dive, Colwill nailed reverse 3½ somersault tuck, earning four 9.5 marks and two 9.0s for a score of 99.75. Dumais was next. Anticipating exactly this high-pressure situation, Dumais had switched his dive list and put his most reliable dive last (a forward 2 ½ somersault with two twists in pike position). It was well-executed, but not enough to overtake Colwill so the team composition came down to Ipsen, the last diver. Ipsen did a reverse 1½ somersault with 3½ twists, but tied Dumais’ final dive score and therefore lost an individual Olympic berth by 1.25 points.

Afterwards, Colwill was extremely relieved but Dumais said he had been equally hungry for the individual berth even though he had already made the synchro team. “My goal is to be a multiple medalist,” Dumais said. Already, Dumais has two world championship silver medals in individual springboard (2005, 2009) and had been the highest-placing American in men’s springboard at the past three Olympics, placing sixth each time. No American has earned an Olympic medal in this event since the late Mark Lenzi took bronze in 1996.

“To be honest,” Dumais added, “I was more worried about this meet than the Olympics. I only compete against other Americans once, maybe twice a year. I don’t know what they’re doing” – except maybe his brothers, who were also in the final. Justin placed fifth and Dwight finished sixth.

Platform specialist Thomas Finchum finished a surprising fourth. He had only been practicing springboard for three or four weeks before Trials. His final dive, however, marked the last hurrah for the 2008 Olympian. One day earlier, he missed the cut for the Olympic platform team and said he would retire to pursue a music-business degree at Belmont University in Nashville. He seemed at peace. Unlike the day before, he said, “I’m not going to break down in tears.”

10m Platform – Women… Viola at Last

Brittany Viola finally qualified for the Olympic team on her third try. At the 2004 Trials, she placed second at age 17, but only the winner went to Athens. In 2008, Viola made the cut for selection camp but found out via mail afterwards that she wasn’t chosen to compete in Beijing. This time, she had come back from two foot surgeries and a subsequent 18-month layoff. She returned stronger than ever, placing tenth at the 2011 world championships in Shanghai.

At Trials, she entered the final with a substantial lead, but took nothing for granted. “Mentally, I came in at zero like everyone else,” she said, “and had to earn every point from the prelims to the final.”

Meanwhile, her famous father, Frank Viola, was watching from afar. He had attended the last two Trials, but this year, the 1987 World Series MVP for the Minnesota Twins and 1988 Cy Young award winner was working as pitching coach for the Savannah Sand Gnats, a Class A affiliate of the NY Mets. Brittany said he was watching on a TV in the locker room during the game, “which meant he was probably not doing his job,” she said with a broad grin.

Katie Bell earned the second berth. Bell is one of eight kids from Ohio and ended the day where she had begun: in second place. She, too, had a long road to London. In 2007, she crash landed a back armstand triple off the platform and separated her chest cartilage, popped ribs, and collapsed a lung on impact. “I didn’t know if I’d ever dive again.” She also had right shoulder surgery two years ago, so she, too, was beaming after making the squad.

Haley Ishimatsu, a 2008 Olympian, placed third and did not make the team.

The U.S. hasn’t won an Olympic medal in this event since 2000 when Laura Wilkinson took gold in Sydney. Wilkinson had also been the best finisher for the U.S. at the past three Games (placing fifth in 2004 and ninth in Beijing).

10m Platform – Men … 2011 World Silver Medalist In, but Finchum Over and Out

David Boudia and Nick McCrory were in the 1-2 position through every phase of competition and once Boudia took the lead in the semifinals, he didn’t relinquish it and finished 59.85 points ahead of his synchro partner, McCrory, in the final. Both men will go to London and compete in both platform events. With four (of six) of the same dives on their individual lists, the 20-year-old McCrory acknowledged that “for me to hang with him, I have to be consistent.” Boudia, the 2011 world championship silver medalist and 2008 Olympic veteran, said McCrory “raised my level of competition” but after Saturday’s final, “there’s a lot left in the tank.” In London, however, both men will have a tough time defeating China, which has won 8 of the last 15 men’s platform medals. The U.S.’s last individual men’s platform medal came 20 years ago, in Barcelona, when Scott Donie claimed silver. (The U.S. has not finished higher than sixth since then.)

The odd man out was third-place finisher Thomas Finchum, who had been a fixture at the U.S. Trials since 2004, when he placed second at age 14 (but didn’t make the team because only the winner went to Athens). This week, however, Finchum had a significant point deficit after prelims and semifinals and ended up finishing third in the final, 179.20 points behind Boudia, his 2008 Olympic synchro partner with whom he had also earned a silver medal at the 2009 world championships in Rome. Afterwards, Finchum quietly said that it would be his last performance on the platform, at age 22.

SYNCHRO EVENTS:

3m Synchro – Women…  A Squeaker

The U.S. only qualified for one women’s synchro event in London, and the lone pair was decided by 42 hundredths of a point on the 3m springboard. All scores from the preliminary and semifinal rounds carried over to the final, and Kelci Bryant and Abby Johnston entered Thursday final with a 6.51 point lead over 17-year-old Kassidy Cook and Christina Loukas. The chasers narrowed the gap in each round, from 5.69 points to 3.51 points to 1.71 points, to 1.32 points with one dive to go. In the end, although Bryant and Johnston were beaten on all five dives, they won by less than a point and became the first U.S. divers to qualify for the 2012 Olympics on Friday.

Afterwards, wearing matching magenta polo shirts over their wet swimsuits, Johnston was giddy about making her first Olympic team while Bryant was calm, having already placed fourth at the 2008 Olympics with a different partner. “I’m in shock,” Johnston said. “I couldn’t stop looking at the scoreboard.”  Bryant, meanwhile, relished having an audience being televised, unlike four years ago when the U.S. team was announced at a selection camp following the Trials. “This is going to help us gong into London – to be such a high pressure competition,” Bryant said. Bryant and Johnston began working together in 2010 and placed fourth at the World Cup test event in London earlier this year. Cook and Loukas, meanwhile, were shattered and did not speak to the press after the event.

3m synchro – Men…  History for Troy Dumais

To earn a fourth Olympic berth, Troy Dumais and his partner Kristian Ipsen had to defeat seven other teams, one of which combined two of Dumais’ brothers. No problem. On Friday night, the 2009 world championship silver medalists beat 2008 Olympic veteran Christopher Colwill and his partner Drew Livingston by 32.70 points, while Justin and Dwight Dumais placed third. With the victory, Troy Dumais became the second American male diver to make four Olympic teams. The first was Greg Louganis but Louganis did not compete in 1980 because the U.S. boycotted the Moscow Games. That means in London, Dumais would be the first American to dive in four Olympics. 

As for the other Dumais divers: the oldest, Justin, 33, had already competed at one Olympics, in 2004, and had only returned to diving a year and a half ago after pursuing a career in the Air National Guard. Justin’s synchro partner, Dwight, the youngest of five diving siblings, was in a celebratory mood anyway because one day later, he would turn 26 on the off-day between synchro and individual springboard events. 

10m synchro – Men… A Blowout and a 2016 Preview

Although the final was a blowout for winners David Boudia and Nick McCrory, there were several subplots in men’s 10-meter synchro. Boudia and his teammate for the past two years entered Thursday’s final with a 114.84 point lead and by the end of the six-dive final, had a gaping 180.78-point advantage over runners-up Steele Johnson and Toby Stanley.  The 16-year-old Johnson actually placed both second AND third because he dove with two different partners. Johnson’s third-place partner (Dashiell Enos) did double duty as well, and placed fifth, too. The 16-year-olds, however, were not the only teens trying to gain the maximum experience.

Half the finalists were 17 or younger. The youngest, Jordan Windle, 13, was perhaps the most compelling. Windle was born in Cambodia but his parents died when he was young. He was adopted at age 2 by an American man and in the summer after second grade, in Florida, Windle began diving. At 12, he qualified for the U.S. Olympic Trials.  Now 13 (and eligible for the London Games because he will be 14 by the end of the calendar year), the tiny Windle was all smiles after placing sixth with 16-year-old Zachary Cooper. “I had a blast,” he said, and was also glad that his two dads (his father and his father’s partner) were in the stands. And as he fielded the last few questions with energy and poise, it was no wonder “Pisey” is his middle name. It means “little darling” in Khmer.

Aimee Berg is a freelance contributor for TeamUSA.org. This story was not subject to the approval of any National Governing Bodies.

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