You have to go back five Olympic Games to find an American medalist in 3-meter springboard diving — the individual kind — but there’s at least a suggestion that the drought may be coming to an end.
At the recent FINA Diving World Cup in Rio de Janeiro, U.S. veteran Kristian Ipsen survived a whipsaw shuffle in the standings — from first to sixth to third in the space of two dives — to win his first individual medal in an international event. That reaffirmed Ipsen as a favorite this summer to make the U.S. Olympic Team and also be a contender when the world’s best reconvene in Rio in August.
“My main goal was to qualify the U.S. for some spots in the Olympics,” Ipsen said, “but once I qualified in the prelims, I told myself I was going to work on this new dive — just because it was the only chance I’d have to do it at the Olympic pool.”
The dive — a front 2 1/2 with three twists — was something he’d missed in the semifinal. But nailing it on his last dive netted him 95.55 points, and put him on the podium.
TeamUSA.org caught up with the 23-year-old Stanford grad — the 2012 London bronze medalist in 3-meter synchronized diving with Troy Dumais — before he joined four other U.S. divers in Beijing for the start of the four-stop 2016 FINA Diving World Series.
You’ve long competed in both individual and synchronized events and had great success at nationals as an individual. But does this breakthrough change the way you look at yourself as a competitor — individual vs. synchro?
Yeah, I think so. For me, I’ve always felt really confident diving synchro because I’ve had a lot of success on the world stage in synchro. Now I feel as I’ve gotten older and matured as an athlete, I feel much more confident diving individually at these world-level meets. I feel confident going into a prelim that I can make it through, and after that then I can get into the finals and break into the top 12. And I feel like the adrenaline of finals is helping me. Before 2012, I used to get anxious before competition. Now I feel really on point.
So does the World Cup medal suggest you might be the guy to break the U.S. blackout in 3-meter individual diving?
Hopefully. I’d like to say so, yeah. No, I feel like we have a lot of depth on the 3-meter individual, which is really exciting. It’s kind of making all of the competitors who will be trying to get these two spots up their game. There aren’t just two people that are way at the top, above everybody else. Every one of those people in the final can get one of those spots. It’s raising the whole level of diving in the event. I’m really excited about my medal and hopefully I can go back and do the same thing, but all the guys at 3-meter have a good chance.
Your bronze in synchro with Troy Dumais in 2012 — did that feel like the culmination of a journey, or the beginning of something?
It felt more like the beginning. It was the culmination of the four years for me and Troy, because we’d been diving together since 2009. But it helped my confidence a lot because I’d just got a medal at the Olympics — and that’s really cool, and the peak for an athlete’s career. But going into the next quad, I felt really good because I had achieved that, and so it wasn’t a do-or-die thing every time I went into a contest. It was like I deserved to be there.
You took a break from diving in 2014. What got you back in the pool?
A lot of athletes go through this, especially in a sport like diving where it’s so mentally taxing. It’s like golf, because there are always things you can work on. I went to work for a start-up in Palo Alto (California), and after about five months away from the pool I was itching to get back. So I’d go after I got off work and get in there by myself and start bouncing on the boards again. It was really helpful to separate myself from it for a bit and do something else.
You had a lot of diving success at a young age. Has a certain pressure accompanied you over the years because you carved out a reputation early?
Sometimes when you start off really young and it goes really well for you, there’s an expectation that you need to stay on this trajectory — and if you don’t, you’re failing. I always felt this was something I had to do. After the Olympics, I needed to figure out why I’m really doing this — and I realized I loved doing this. It’s so much fun, and I’m only going to have the chance to do it a little bit longer.
You’ve done a lot of synchronized diving with Sam Dorman of late. Why has that been a good fit?
Sam’s a great competitor. I like diving with him in practice because he’s really light-hearted and makes it really fun. I have a tendency, when things aren’t going well, to get really tense and fixate on something. And he has the ability to bring me out of that.
How about your evolution – are you a more driven diver than you were four years ago?
Yes, definitely. I’m super driven to get another Olympic medal. Because I got one in 2012, honestly that’s the main reason I’m still in this — to get another one. And hopefully to get a different color.