RIO DE JANEIRO -- Standing on the platform before their final dive Monday at the Maria Lenk Aquatic Center, David Boudia and Steele Johnson recited Philippians 4:6, a Bible verse about anxiety. They smiled, fist-bumped and executed a back 2 ½ somersault with 2 ½ twists in the men’s 10-meter synchronized diving competition.
And then they won the silver medal.
The silver marks Boudia’s second Olympic synchro medal and third overall, as he won synchro bronze and individual gold in London, and Johnson’s first Olympic medal of any kind.
“One of every color,” Boudia said of his medal collection.
Chinese divers Chen Aisen and Lin Yue won gold with 496.98 points. Boudia and Johnson were consistent, remaining in second place throughout the competition and finishing with a score of 457.11.
“We had no idea where we were (going into the final dive),” Johnson said. “We knew it was just another dive, it’s another back-twister. Knowing we left everything out there in the pool is all we can really do.”
Boudia and Johnson make a point of not watching the scoreboard during competitions. They say it makes them over-think and focus on points, rather than on the dive itself.
Despite not knowing the scores as they went along, the pair felt strong throughout the event. They faltered only on the 4 ½ tuck, a dive that gave them trouble in the preliminaries and semifinals of Olympic Team Trials earlier this summer before they nailed it in the final on their way to earning a spot on the team. While their score here for the dive was about 20 points lower, an 85.47, the duo performed well enough to hold off the British team of Tom Daley and Daniel Goodfellow, who won bronze.
Boudia and Johnson have a special bond as partners. Boudia used to drive the then 10-year old Johnson to practice, and they now train together at Purdue University, Boudia’s alma mater and Johnson’s current school. The two of them say there’s a brotherhood between them, rather than a match based solely on diving.
“This has been a phenomenal journey for both of us and I don’t think I would have been able to go through something like this without such a friend and a brother like Steele,” said Boudia, 27.
Johnson, 20, said while he appreciates having a gold medalist at his side, there is more to Boudia than just awards.
“Even if David didn’t have an Olympic gold medal, he’d be the best person to take me along this Olympic journey,” said Johnson. “I’ve learned so much from this guy about diving, about life, about faith, about being a man that I wouldn’t be where I am today without this guy teaching me along the way.”
Johnson almost didn’t make it to this day, suffering a head injury in 2009 that required 33 stitches and left him with memory loss. The incident almost cost him his life and made him quit the sport he loved.
“I could have stopped diving, I could have gone back to middle school and just been a normal kid and played different sports like football or soccer,” he said.
Johnson now has a silver medal to his name with one more competition to go, the men’s individual 10-meter next week, in which Boudia will also compete. For now though, there are only the emotions and excitement from Monday’s silver-medal win.
“It was a mix of excitement, joy, happiness, just all over the place,” Johnson said.
Rebecca Harris is a student in the Sports Capital Journalism Program at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis.