David Boudia poses for a portrait during the Team USA Tokyo 2020 Olympic shoot on Nov. 22, 2019 in West Hollywood, Calif.
Even though David Boudia had no access to a pool during lockdown last year, he tried not to feel like a diver out of water.
As soon as he found out his training facility in Indiana was closing, Boudia raced over – he had a key – grabbed some flipping mats, loaded them into a trailer and took them home.
“Once it got warm outside, I threw the mats out on our deck and flipped around on those,” Boudia said.
The four-time Olympic medalist would do repetition after repetition to retain his flipping ability. He knew he had to hit the board running when he got back into real training to make his fourth straight Olympic team.
After all, diving “is not like riding a bike,” said Boudia, 32, who won the Olympic gold medal on 10-meter platform in 2012. “You need a couple of weeks to transition back into what you felt like.”
And now that he’s a springboard diver instead of plunging from an immovable tower, Boudia also had to practice bouncing. “My kiddos have a backyard trampoline,” said the father of three, “and I stole it for those two months so that I could get the kinesthetic awareness.”
His kids – Dakoda, 6, Mila, 3, and Knox, 2 – even got into the act. “They were all out there wanting to stretch me with me, and they were showing me how their rolls were just like my flips and it was super cute,” Boudia said. “It’s another memory that we will have during the pandemic, where my kids will not remember it as a hard and difficult time for the world, but they’ll remember it as ‘Dad was home and able to spend a lot of time with them.’”
Yet he’ll remember it a little differently: “Never in a million years did I think I'd be doing training in my backyard on grass.”
Boudia also didn’t foresee being flat on his back in early April after contracting COVID-19. He was “out cold” for a day and a half, only waking up to take a sip of water.
At least the timing was in his favor. Boudia and his 3-meter synchronized diving partner Steele Johnson had planned to go to Tokyo for the Olympic test event. It was postponed from April to May, but they opted to stay home from the rescheduled competition. Johnson also contracted COVID-19 and they used the time to recuperate and train for the U.S. Olympic Team Trials – Diving, which will be held June 6-13 in Indianapolis.
Now Boudia has fully recovered and the spring is back in his step. This Olympic Trials will be a new challenge for him. After overcoming his well-documented fear of heights, Boudia made Team USA in 2008, 2012 and 2016 in 10-meter platform – winning the bronze in synchro in London in addition to his individual gold – and then captured synchro silver with Johnson and the individual bronze in Rio.
He retired for a year and a half and went into real estate, but Boudia said, “It was pretty clear that I still had the desire to represent Team USA and the sport of diving. I still felt good.”
While he said divers are considered in their prime at 23, he still felt great at 27 in Rio. However, early in his comeback, Boudia suffered a concussion in 2018 after crashing hard off the platform in training.
“It was kind of a wake up call – ‘All right, what am I doing?’” he said. “I switched events to the 3-meter springboard and I think that was probably a huge blessing in disguise because it kind of gave me a renewal to loving the sport even more.”
Boudia was no rookie on springboard. He won three of his six NCAA championships on 3-meter for Purdue University before becoming a platform specialist and was the U.S. national champion on 3-meter in 2013. Six years later, Boudia again stood atop the podium at nationals in the event.
But after knowing what to expect for three Olympic Games on platform, Boudia said springboard is “a totally different beast. You have something that’s moving under your feet.”
On the “hurdle,” the approach in which the diver gets height, Boudia said, “You could step in the wrong spot, and it throws off the timing, the rhythm and the height and the distance of the dive, so there’s a lot that can go wrong.”
That pressure and fear just add to his excitement. “I think I feed off of that and still learning how to do this apparatus is a challenge,” Boudia said. “That's why I go into practice hungry every single day just knowing that I'm not perfect at it and there's something to conquer on that given day.”
Although the difficulty of his dives was not as high as the other top competitors at the 2019 world championships, Boudia finished a surprising fifth. Teammate Michael Hixon placed seventh, earning Team USA two quota spots for the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 this summer.
Hixon and his synchro partner, Andrew Capobianco will be among Boudia’s rivals in the 3-meter individual event at the trials. Hixon was a 2016 Olympian, placing 10th, and Capobianco is the 2018 national champ.
However, Boudia, who has since upgraded his degree of difficulty across the board, said his main focus is synchro with Johnson, who will turn 25 on June 16.
“I think we have a phenomenal shot of breaking into that top three (at the Olympics),” Boudia said. “Just like any competition, experience is on your side.”
He and Johnson are working on those little details that make a good dive into a great one. Their hardest is a front 4½ somersaults in a tuck position, with a degree of difficulty of 3.8.
Johnson was also a platform specialist before stepping down to springboard following some ankle injuries.
“We’ve grown up diving together,” said Boudia, who dove with Johnson before and after they attended Purdue, “so we had the same coach and kind of the same technique. We have the history and the chemistry. We don’t have to really focus or work on our synchronized technique; it just clicks. More than anything we have to work on just making the individual dives.”
Boudia has made both mental and physical adjustments since changing his events.
“Probably the hardest thing to do on platform is to get over the fear of jumping off a three-story building,” Boudia said, “going head-first at 35 miles an hour. I think anyone would be petrified of getting up there and jumping off. But I wanted to go to the olympics since I was seven years old. That was just something that I had to get over. My drive and my ambition and my tenacity to get to the Olympics was more than a fear of heights, so I pushed through it.”
He also had the help of a sports psychologist.
Physically, Boudia said hitting the water from such a great height was hard on his shoulders and wrists.
“On springboard, it’s almost the opposite,” he said. “There’s the fear of not being in the right balance of the springboard and the right rhythm to get as much height as you can, and there’s a lot of wear and tear on your legs. Your knees hurt a lot more.”
Boudia had successful surgery in September for a sports hernia and partial adductor release, which he thinks was caused by coming back too hard and too fast.
But who can blame Boudia for wanting to plunge back into training?
He said that adversity can be “your best friend” if you are an athlete.
“If you can train through this, then the Olympics should be a breeze,” Boudia said. “You block out the cameras and the media and everything that comes and you just do your job there.”
After all, the Olympic Games “bring the world together for sport and peace and unity," he said. "I think we're excited to represent Team USA in a time that’s a little dark and cold and bring a little positivity.”