David Boudia was once afraid of heights.
Saturday night, he stood atop of the 10-meter platform at the Aquatics Center in front of 18,000 fans. He was three stories high, and the stakes had never been higher.
He launched off the platform, with a back 2.5 somersault with 2.5 twists, and into the pool.
At that moment it was clear: Boudia had conquered his fears. And because of it, he made U.S. diving history.
Boudia won the gold medal in men's 10m platform diving with a 568.65, becoming the first U.S. man to win diving gold in the event since Greg Louganis did it in 1988.
"I dreamed about this,” said Boudia. “It didn't even feel like I was diving, it was so surreal."
China's Qiu Bo, the defending world champion, entered the final dive tied with Boudia for second behind Great Britain's Tom Daley. Both Boudia and Qiu attempted the same dive. The difference came in execution. Qui settled for silver with a 566.85 while Daley won the bronze with a 556.95.
“That’s the greatest performance I’ve ever seen him have,” said Boudia’s coach, Adam Soldati.
Added Boudia: “It was the most fun I ever had.”
Entering his final dive, Boudia had no idea he was in contention for gold. He wasn’t keeping track of the standings.
"If I had known the margin [needed to win] my heart would have been pounding and the pressure would have been building,” Boudia said. “I was so calm."
When he climbed out of the pool, Canadian diver Riley McCormick told him, “You can smile now.”
When the final results were announced, Boudia joined in a group hug with his coaches and teammates. He had a huge grin on his face.
"To be in the record books alongside Greg Louganis, the greatest diver in the entire world, Olympic legend, is amazing,” said Boudia. “He's had so much support for USA Diving."
Louganis has mentored the U.S. divers, who entered the London Games in a bit of a rut. The women had not won a medal since 2000, while the men’s drought extended back to 1996.
That all changed earlier in the Games when the U.S. went three-for-three, medaling in every synchronized event. That includes a bronze from Boudia and partner Nick McCrory in the 10-meter synchro.
McCrory placed ninth in Saturday’s individual competition with a score of 505.40.
Boudia’s win was especially impressive, considering he barely qualified for the semifinals. In the preliminary round, Boudia placed 18th. Only the top 18 divers advanced.
“The job is just to get through,” McCrory said, adding that each diver gets a clean slate once the semifinals begin.
Boudia made the most of his clean slate, finishing third in semifinals. In the finals, he thrived on diving after Daley, the hometown favorite, in the finals.
"Tom Daley dove absolutely amazing,” Boudia said. “In front of a home crowd, this kid had so much pressure on him, and he stepped up to the occasion, got a bronze medal, and made his country so proud."
Boudia added that because he was after Daley, there was even more pressure on him to do well. But he didn’t mind.
“I’m an adrenaline junkie,” Boudia said, with a smile.