ATLANTA – The scoreboard at the USA Diving Winter Trials was so informal it listed athletes by their first names and last initial.
But there was no question who “David B.” was – even if he was competing on 3-meter springboard instead of 10-meter platform.
David Boudia, who dove to four Olympic medals from the tower, made himself at home on the board as he pursues his fourth Olympic team.
He rallied from third place after the preliminaries to overtake 2016 Olympian Michael Hixon and 2018 national champ Andrew Capobianco in the six-dive final.
What’s the difference between the two events? “Three stories,” quipped Boudia, 29, who won three of his six NCAA championships for Purdue on springboard before becoming a platform specialist. “Springboard’s hard because it’s a rhythm. If you’re not good at dancing, then springboard’s not your thing. For some reason I’m not good at dancing, but it works.”
He finished with 907.95 points as Hixon faltered on his last dive to slip into second at 886.50. Capobianco had one poor dive and placed third with 861.60 points.
Boudia last won a national title in 3-meter in 2013. He’s only been training on springboard since July and has to wear tape on both his feet for arch support and because they aren’t broken in yet on the rough springboard.
“Going into this competition, my goal is not to win a national championship,” Boudia said. “My goal is to be the best in the world. If all I’m shooting for is trying to win nationals, I think I’d sell myself short. I look at today obviously victorious, but I also look at it as I have a lot of work to do if I’m going to contending for gold in Tokyo.”
Before the event, Drew Johansen of Indiana University, who coaches Hixon and Capobianco, predicted the competition would be “a dogfight,” and it was.
Hixon scored 460.5 points on the six preliminary dives, followed by Capobianco with 450.65 and Boudia at 450.10.
Boudia moved into second on the first dive of the final, then Capobianco regained that spot with 91.20 points on a forward 4 ½ somersault from the tuck position.
He didn’t keep it long, scoring just 39.00 on his third effort.
In Round 5, Boudia posted the highest score of the meet, 94.50 points (all 9s and 9.5s), with a reverse 3 ½ somersault from the tuck position, equaling his score on the same dive in the prelims.
However, he still trailed Hixon by 13.40 points.
In the last round, Boudia scored 89.25 points on a reverse 1 ½ somersault with 3 ½ twists. Hixon needed 75.85 to win, but missed on his inward 3 ½ somersault tuck, posting just 54.40 points.
“I was leading and I gave it up,” Hixon said. “I think most people call that a choke, so I wasn’t too happy about it. I thought I won the contest for five rounds, but that’s not how it comes out in the end. So I’ve just got to get better and come back and be ready to dive.”
“When you’re that last man standing on the board, it’s hard to do,” Johansen said. “We’ve seen it in all different sports. A 3-foot putt becomes really hard to do on the 18th hole of the Masters. That’s kind of what happened to us there and he’ll learn from it.”
Johansen said all three divers had a miss, which is concerning as they look at the international scene, “but they also had flashes of brilliance, too, which was exciting to see.”
He said he was glad Boudia went before his two divers so he could see how they responded to the pressure.
“He’s a legend in the sport and a tremendous competitor, “Johansen said. “So he’s helping us all get better, as he’s always done.”
With the win, Boudia qualifies for the 2019 FINA Grand Prix events. Hixon and Capobianco, who have paired up to become the top U.S. synchro 3-meter team, had already pre-qualified based on their competition at the 2018 World Cup.
“It’s great to see him back competing,” said Dan Laak, the USA Diving High Performance Director. “I know it’s a little lower than we’re used to seeing him. He’s a great diver, so he’s going to be good at any level.”
Boudia won the gold on platform and bronze in 10-meter synchro at the Olympic Games London 2012, adding silver in synchro and bronze in the individual event in Rio.
He then took a break after Rio to focus on his real estate career, but announced his return in September 2017. After sustaining a concussion in a crash off the platform, he decided to shift his efforts to springboard.
He won the silver medal at the FINA Gold Coast Grand Prix in Australia last month, which gave him confidence.
With the springboard a moving target unlike the platform, he said he is constantly thinking, “Am I going to hit the board, am I going to stomp the board, am I going to fall off the side? There’s a lot of factors going into it, but that’s why I love it. I love the high pressure that diving brings. I love the technicality that the sport has and I think that’s why I’ve been in it so long, because I just love the challenge.”
As he vies for one of a possible two Olympic spots, Boudia knows that Hixon, who was 10th in Rio, Capobianco and Olympian Steele Johnson, who is recovering from injury, will be in the mix.
“I sit here and look at what the field in the United States is going to look like and it’s not going to be easy, so I can’t let my guard down,” Boudia said. “There’s harder dives that I need to learn to be a contender on the world level, but I definitely think that the potential’s there.”
Boudia’s daughter’s, Dakoda and Mila, and his wife, Sonnie, who is pregnant with their third child, were watching from the stands at Georgia Tech.
Boudia said Dakoda has some memory of Rio, but she'll be able to appreciate Tokyo more because she'll be 6. Sonnie reported that she watched the prelims intently.
“She asked how I dove afterwards and I could hear her say, ‘Go, Daddy, go,’” he said, “and that takes pressure off because obviously if I flop or nail a dive, Dakoda’s not going to care. She’s just going to love me.”