LONDON -- Just 24 hours before he stood atop an Olympic podium, U.S. diver David Boudia was standing on a 10-meter platform, on the verge of seeing his dream disappear. A strong takeoff on his fourth dive, a reverse 3½ somersault tuck, caused him to rip into the water over-rotated, and the meager scores he received sucked him from eighth into 17th place. Two relatively average dives later, he finished the preliminary round ranked 18th, the absolute last diver to qualify for Saturday morning's semifinals.
"As much as I wouldn't want to admit it, and as much as I thought I was relaxed, I was really tense," Boudia admitted Saturday. "The results showed that."
But when the 23-year-old native of Noblesville, Ind., woke up Saturday morning, he opened his eyes with fresh perspective. "This is just a sport," he told himself. "It's temporary. The sun's going to come up tomorrow, and there's going to be more people who win medals and who train just as hard.... Just enjoy it, have a ball with it."
He woke up with peace, but he'll go to sleep with a place in Olympic history. In a dramatic final that saw three different leaders over six rounds, Boudia narrowly edged China's Qiu Bo and Great Britain's Tom Daley to become the first American men's platform diver to win gold since Greg Louganis in 1988.
"Going into this competition, it was all about perspective," Boudia said. "Knowing that God was totally in control, and having that peace... this competition was the most fun I've ever had."
The pressure was gone, and all he focused on was what he could control. So when Daley asked for -- and was granted -- a re-dive after being distracted by the flashing bulbs of cameras in the first round, Boudia, next up, remained unfazed. (If he wasn't before, the 18-year-old Daley, the hometown darling with his boyish good looks and camera-ready smile, will surely grow even more accustomed to the paparazzi now that he is a bronze medalist.) When Daley nailed his second try, and then continued to dive well right before him, Boudia stayed calm.
"I'm actually glad [Daley] went 91.80 points," Boudia said. "I totally fed off that.... I'm so glad that I went after him. I'm an adrenaline junkie, and having 18,000 people erupt in the stands, my heart was racing, and I was having so much fun up there."
Finally, Boudia was having fun on the very platform he once feared. Just 10 years ago, he says, he was petrified of the height, needed bribing to climb the ladder so high. He didn't even scale the 10-meter height until he was 13. "Of course, you have to be crazy to jump off a three-story building and dive at 35 miles per hour into a pool," he said Saturday. "Of course, an 11-year-old is going to be scared of that."
But his dream, ever since he watched the Atlanta Games in 1996, was to be an Olympian. He turned to an old gymnastics coach, who advised him to draw his dives on paper, visualize them over and over again. By the time he'd climb the platform, then, maybe the fear would be lessened. So he spent his days in school sketching his dives, every movement and every detail. "I probably wasn't supposed to be doing that in school," he says now, laughing. But eventually, it helped.
It helped him all the way to Beijing, where he finished 10th in 2008, but he left unsatisfied and thirsting for gold. Four years later, though, Boudia came to London a different diver; in fact, a different person, he said. "In 2008, there was so much chasing after the wrong things," Boudia said. "I was chasing after a medal so that I could get fame and money, so I could be famous. But it doesn't satisfy you.... My faith came into [play] the year after I got to Purdue. My faith is the most important thing in my entire life."
It granted him peace, as he dove in front a packed Aquatics Centre (which included David Beckham and his sons) Saturday night; and calm, when he had faced the prospect of losing it all before the real competition even began.
"Twenty-four hours ago, I barely made it into the semifinals," Boudia said, almost in disbelief. "Now, there's a gold medal around my neck.... It's surreal."