Boudia's gold medal a step forward for US diving
NEW YORK (AP) — David Boudia knows about pressure. He spent the entire Beijing Olympics focusing on his diving competitions — probably a little too much.
He came home empty handed.
After that experience, he let go of the idea of winning medals above all else, and just focused on doing his best at the sport he picked up 11 years ago because his friend's father won some free lessons in an auction.
He came back from London with two medals clanking around his neck, representing a return to the Olympic success that eluded the United States for two cycles since Laura Wilkinson's surprise gold in Sydney.
How chill was Boudia? He remembers taking time to appreciate the crowd roaring, mostly for British diver Tom Daley, who had recently lost his father to cancer. He doesn't remember his winning dive.
"It's not every day you get to dive in front of 18,000 people," Boudia said. "It's crazy. I remember the swing, climbing up out of the pool and hearing the crowd."
Early on in the London Games, Boudia won a bronze in the synchronized platform event with Nicholas McCrory. Then on Saturday, he upset world champion Qiu Bo of China by less than two points to win his gold on the 10-meter platform.
The last American man to win gold in that event? Greg Louganis in 1988, when he was already famous for his accomplishments. Since then, his name has also come up when noting that no American diver has reached that level.
Laura Wilkinson won a memorable gold in 2000, but the United States was shut out — men and women, platform and springboard, synchro and solo — in 2004 and 2008.
Since then, USA diving made some changes. So did Boudia.
In Beijing, he remembers thinking about getting off the plane, winning a bunch of medals and becoming famous. All he thought about were those medals. Between competitions, he remembers all too well what he and his teammates would do.
"What we did in Beijing is we just sat there, and counted," Boudia said. "All right, 24 hours. All right, 15 hours."
It didn't go that well. He and teammate Thomas Finchum made the final, but finished fifth in the synchronized event. Solo, he finished 10th, almost 100 points behind the winner, Matthew Mitcham of Australia.
London was different right from the start for a number of reasons. Personally, Boudia credits the change to an increased focus on his religious faith, which he said let him be mentally calm. Professionally, he cited the work done by Steve Foley, whom USA Diving hired in 2009 as high-performance director, in changing the atmosphere around the team.
"Because of the direction change in USA Diving, we got out of the village," Boudia said.
The divers went north to train in Sheffield, England, and Boudia said he was able to spend some time relaxing at a house in the countryside with his sisters Shauni and Shaila. Boudia had 10 days between events, and he didn't want to repeat the slow burn of Beijing by sitting around.
"They opened up their home, they cooked for us," Boudia said, though he wanted to respect the family's privacy by not naming them. "My sisters and I got to hang out, like when we were younger, and just enjoy ourselves."
Refreshed, Boudia came back to the five-ring circus of London with a rested body and mind.
He said he didn't bother looking at the scoreboard too much. He barely made it out of prelims, qualifying 18th before a strong semifinal moved him up to medal position.
He was tied with Qiu going into the last round, and Qiu was set to go after him. Nothing else could do but what he's done so many times in practice.
He scored 102.60 points on a back 2 1/2 somersault with 2 1/2 twists pike worth a 3.6 degree of difficulty. It turned out to be the highest score of any dive in the final once Qiu followed with a 100.80, giving Boudia and the U.S. the gold by 568.65 points to Qiu's 566.85.
"I was totally relaxed, wasn't even focused on the results. Wasn't looking at the scoreboard," Boudia said. "And I really think that helped my mental game throughout the competition."
Boudia and McCrory weren't the only Americans to medal in London. Troy Dumai and Kristian Ipsen took bronze in the 3-meter synchronized springboard event, and Kelci Bryant and Abigail Johnston won silver in the women's synchro springboard.
It was a big step forward for USA diving in general, though Boudia was the only multi-medalist. His gold was the first by an American man since the late Mark Lenzi won the 3-meter springboard at the 1992 Barcelona Games — when Boudia was 3.
It was during the 1996 Games that Boudia decided he wanted to be an Olympic athlete. Having his dreams of a medal evaporate in Beijing hurt, but he found peace since then.
Qiu wasn't as calm. He appeared devastated by the result.
"I was very nervous," Qiu said through a translator. "I have competed so many times, but I have never had that much nervousness."
Qiu has time to learn, though. The 19-year-old says he'll be back in Rio de Janeiro in 2016. Boudia hasn't made plans beyond his next semester at Purdue, where the 23-year-old from Noblesville, Ind., says he plans to form an intramural soccer team and stay out of the pool.
After that, he doesn't know. But whatever he does, he knows he won't hang on too tightly.
"You can get really overwhelmed with a lot of different things," Boudia said. "Knowing that I'm not in control of what happens has been just so peaceful and content in my heart."