Diver Kassidy Cook would think back to her 4-year-old self, the one who couldn’t properly pronounce the word Olympics. It was this image that got her through the injuries, the trying times in which she considered giving up diving for good.
Cook, 21, saw her once-distant Olympic dream come to fruition on June 26 as she won the women’s 3-meter springboard at the IU Natatorium on the IUPUI campus. She finished 54.35 points ahead of Abby Johnston, who qualified for the second Olympic slot awarded to the U.S.
“Oh gosh, I’m at a loss for words. It all happened so fast. I knew going into my last dive that I just had to do it to make the team. And it’s just a rush of emotions after that. I ran to my coach and ran to my family,” Cook said. “The job’s not done yet. This is just the first step. Now, it’s time to go to Rio and kick some butt there.”
In 2012, Cook needed reconstructive surgery to her labrum in her right shoulder, which she tore three weeks after she missed qualifying for the Olympics in the synchronized 3-meter springboard. She required a second surgery in June 2013 after her shoulder started to dislocate. If that wasn’t enough, she also had knee surgery.
The challenges were both physical and mental. It was during her freshman and sophomore years at Stanford that she considered giving up on her Olympic dreams. This was when she talked with a former coach and thought back to that 4-year-old girl who called the Olympics the “Balimpics.”
“The first two years of my string of injuries was definitely the hardest. I was afraid that I was never going to get back to full form,” Cook said. “I didn’t want to be a has-been at age 19. So I did have that thought in the back of my mind, but I never wanted to give up on my dream.”
She took off the 2015-16 school year to return home to The Woodlands, Texas, and focus her energy on qualifying for the Olympics. During her year off, she won the 2015 AT&T USA Diving National Championships and the 2015 USA Diving Winter National Championships.
Johnston, 26, will be making her second Olympic performance and her first as an individual. She won a silver medal in 2012 with Kelci Bryant in the women’s synchronized 3-meter springboard.
A medical student at Duke, Johnston’s key to balancing school with training: “A lot of coffee and a lot of early mornings.”
In 2012, it was Johnston who beat out Cook by 0.42 points for the final Olympic spot.
Cook and Johnston, friends of 11 years, will head to Rio. Each will be seeking to become the first American woman to medal on the 3-meter springboard since Kelly McCormick won bronze in 1988 in Seoul.
“I’m so thrilled for her,” Johnston said. “She deserves it; it’s an incredible accomplishment that she has worked so hard for. It was tough four years ago because we are such good friends, and to be the one who narrowly edged her out, it weighed on me because it was tough to see someone I cared so much about be so sad. So I couldn’t be happier for her. I know she is going to kick butt in Rio, and I’m going to be right there with her.”