U.S. Olympic Diving Trials Preview
For the first time since 2000, the U.S. Olympic Diving Trials feature no Olympic medalists. That's a startling stat for a country with more than twice as many Olympic diving medals than any other nation, despite China's recent dominance.
The last link to the medal podium, Laura Wilkinson, retired after winter nationals in January. But there is hope that an American will break through and end an Olympic medal drought that's reached 12 years since Wilkinson took gold in at the Sydney Games in 2000.
Why? Experience. The Trials, running Sunday through June 24, should yield a team with Olympic veterans in all four individual events -- men's and women's platform and men's and women's springboard.
"Here's the good news for the U.S.," said NBC analyst Cynthia Potter, a 1976 Olympic bronze medalist. "[David] Boudia's been there [to the 2008 Olympics], he's a team leader right now, and they respect him. Brittany Viola, even though she has not been on an Olympic team, has been to the world championships. She's very popular. She's a good leader. ... Troy Dumais has been there numerous times. There's enough leadership that it's really good news."
The top two finishers in each event (cumulative scores from prelims, semis and finals) qualify for the Olympic team, as well as the No. 1 synchronized duo in men's platform and springboard and women's springboard. The U.S. did not qualify for the Olympics in synchronized women's platform.
Here's how the competition stacks up:
Boudia is the best U.S. hope for an individual Olympic diving medal -- male or female -- and the surest bet to place first or second next week and make his second Olympic team. He's the reigning world silver medalist in the most competitive event on the international scene -- 10-meter platform event.
Of course, Boudia's not overlooking the task at hand.
"The Olympic trials is going to be a dogfight with the top three," he said.
The other two are Nick McCrory and Thomas Finchum. McCrory beat Boudia for the 2011 NCAA championship as a Duke sophomore. Finchum, a 2008 Olympic team member with Boudia, was set back seven months by shoulder surgery in 2010.
"I don't see any roadblocks for David," Potter said. "[Finchum] doesn't quite have the degree of difficulty as the others, but he is in line to be competitive with Nick and David if there are any problems."
Viola, the daughter of former MLB star Frank Viola, hopes her third Trials will produce her first trip to the Olympics. In 2004, as a 17-year-old, she nearly pulled a shocker, coming just short in the final round in a battle with Wilkinson. In 2008, Viola finished fifth and an Olympic alternate.
The difference this year is that Viola is the most consistent U.S. diver in her event.
"Both of my Olympic Trials experiences were very unique," Viola said. "My first one was when I was 17 and a junior in high school, I was just ecstatic to be going and blown away at the opportunity and experience. Even though I just missed, it didn't matter."
"In 2008, I was unsure if I even wanted to go to Olympic Trials," continued Viola, who fought bulimia between 2004 and 2008 and spent 45 days in a treatment center in 2006.
"This Olympic Trials coming up, I've been training my mind, body, spirit, soul -- everything has been in my training. I want to be at Olympic Trials, and I want to be at the Olympics."
Viola won both the 2011 national and winter national titles and placed 18th and 10th at the last two world championships.
Another contender is 2008 Olympian Haley Ishimatsu, who rebounded from finishing 13th at the 2011 nationals to win the 2012 winter nationals. Like Viola, her international record is underwhelming (14th at the Olympics, 17th at 2009 worlds), but she impressed a global field at May's USA Diving Grand Prix with a fourth-place finish.
Ishimatsu and Viola are the only divers with multiple world championships experience, but they are not without competition.
Jessica Parratto, Amy Cozad, Anna James and Katie Bell are also on the radar.
"This is one of the most interesting competitive scenarios," Potter said. "There's probably six to eight women who could make the Olympic team."
Troy Dumais is the obvious story here. The 32-year-old wants to be the first U.S. male diver to compete in four Olympics.
"He's got his work cut out for him," Potter said.
Like the men's platform, the springboard figures to be three men diving for two spots. There's Dumais, the defending Trials champion and five-time world medalist. There's Dumais' 19-year-old synchro partner, Kristian Ipsen, the 2011 national champion and rising Stanford sophomore. And then there's 2008 Olympian Chris Colwill, who's having a sensational early season. He won the winter nationals and USA Diving Grand Prix and boasts a forward 4 1/2 somersault tuck, one of the toughest dives in the world.
"Kristian Ipsen has been very good at times, but maybe not as consistent as Troy over the long haul," Potter said. "Chris Colwill, wow, he's doing some beautiful things. ... He looks a lot more refined than he did four years ago."
Christina Loukas, whose family owns Cubby Bear Lounge outside Wrigley Field and also area rooftops, enters as the favorite. She's the defending Olympic Trials champion and was the highest U.S. female finisher at the 2011 worlds (fourth place).
But Loukas' last four years have not been as smooth as her resume suggests.
She barely rested after the 2008 Olympics -- where she was ninth -- and captured the NCAA three-meter springboard title with a record score in 2009. The championship belied a growing problem not uncommon in diving.
"Mental issues, mental blocks, [I] couldn't do my dives," Loukas said. "I did not want to go to practice and hated the feeling of being on the board and not being able to [dive]."
She took a seven-month break in 2010 and moved from Indiana to Texas and started training under Kenny Armstrong, Wilkinson's long-time coach. The results improved greatly with her finish at the 2011 worlds (no U.S. woman has won a world springboard medal since 1982), and then a victory over a Chinese diver for third at the USA Diving Grand Prix.
At Trials, her primary competition will be 2008 Olympic teammate Kelci Bryant, her synchro partner, Kassidy Cook, and Cassidy Krug. Those three are likely fighting for one Olympic spot behind Loukas.
NBC Sports Network televises prelims, semis and the synchro competition from Tuesday through Friday. NBC airs all four individual finals live June 23-24. Find the exact schedule below.