When Team USA divers perform at the Pan American Games, what happens in the few seconds they plummet toward the water has the power to clinch a spot in the 2016 Olympic Games.
The Olympic opportunity will not be the individual champions' to keep. It will instead be earned for their home countries.
The diving portion of Pan Ams in Toronto from July 10-13 will be a qualifier to the 2016 Olympics, as the top finisher in each of the four individual events wins a quota spot for his or her country. In the synchronized diving performances, however, no Olympic slots will be awarded.
The Pan Am team consists of four synchronized diving pairs split evenly between men and women. Those eight divers will also compete in their respective individual events.
“Even though they were selected off of synchro, I think they will also put a lot of emphasis on the individual, knowing that they have a legitimate shot to bring back the country’s spot,” Team USA head coach Matt Scoggin said.
The events at Pan Ams include the 3-meter springboard and the 10-meter platform, both of which will be performed by individuals and synchronized pairs on both the men’s and women’s sides.
For each dive, the degree of difficulty and execution factor into the score. On the women’s side at Pan Ams, most of the variation in scores will result from execution as many of the athletes will perform similar dives. Only two Canadian divers set themselves apart from the other competitors in terms of difficulty.
“Canada has two girls who are competing a dive that pretty much nobody else in the world is competing, but other than those two, the lists are all the same,” U.S. diver Deidre Freeman said.
None of the U.S. divers have previously competed at Pan Ams, and many are newcomers to this level of competition.
Leading the U.S. team will be Freeman and fellow 2013 world championship team member Maren Taylor in 3-meter. The two placed second at the recently completed national championships. The other women’s pair – Delaney Schnell and Samantha Bromberg – will be competing together for the first time after 2008 Olympian Mary Beth Dunnichay had to withdraw due to injury at the end of June.
On the men’s side, the U.S. will be represented by Cory Bowersox and Zac Nees in 3-meter, and Zachary Cooper and Ryan Hawkins in 10-meter.
At the 2012 Olympics, Team USA earned four diving medals. But Scoggin recognizes that the U.S. must continue to work to keep pace with other nations.
“We came off a very successful 2012 Olympic experience, but we acknowledge and understand that the world of diving has improved dramatically since London,” Scoggin said.
While Pan Ams is a competition only among North and South American countries, Scoggin calls it a “dress rehearsal” for the 2016 Olympics.
Emily Giambalvo is a student in the Sports Media Certificate program at the University of Georgia’s Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication.