Strong Duke presence on Olympic diving team

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Associated Press

Posted on July 4, 2012 at 4:03 AM

DURHAM, N.C. (AP) — The U.S. Olympic diving team will have a decidedly Duke flavor to it.

Two Blue Devils are on the Americans' roster for the London Games: Abby Johnston qualified in the women's 3-meter springboard synchro, while Nick McCrory made it in both the men's individual and synchro events on the 10-meter platform.

Those achievements mark the latest step forward for a program that Duke diving coach Drew Johansen says has "been coming up pretty quickly on the map the last 4-5 years."

The divers have combined for the program's three individual NCAA championships. The 20-year-old McCrory claimed consecutive titles on the platform in 2010 and '11, while Johnston, 22, captured her first last year on the springboard.

"They've really shown that it can be done," Johansen said. "One of the big questions about being a student-athlete at Duke is the balance between your sport and education. ... They've proven that, yes, you can be a world-class athlete, you can be an Olympian, while at the same time seeking out all your educational needs."

However, they've paused the pursuit of their degrees to chase those Olympic dreams. Neither is listed on the current Duke roster because they took the recently completed academic year off and redshirted to focus on making it to London.

"It's a privilege to represent the U.S. and Duke and my hometown," said McCrory, a native of Chapel Hill. "It's what I've been shooting for my entire life."

Duke and Stanford are the only schools to place multiple divers on the Olympic team. That's a stamp of validation for a program Johansen began building almost immediately upon his arrival in 2007 — when he left Columbus, Ohio, and the club team that included Johnston.

"I think it speaks volumes about the type of program that we run here, just how intense our training can be and that we all have really high goals," Johnston said. "I think it's very important that Drew pushes us, each one of the divers, to do our best, whether it be to win the dual meet or win the Olympics. I think we have a really special program here."

Johnston, a gymnast as a young girl, gave up that sport because of back injuries, switched to diving and started working with Johansen at age 12. Johansen calls her his first recruit at Duke because when he was hired, she followed him to the North Carolina Triangle and finished her senior year of high school online from Durham so she could continue to train with him.

McCrory, meanwhile, began training with former North Carolina diver Nunzio Esposto in Chapel Hill at age 8 and continued roughly until he turned 14 and started working with Johansen.

"He's a phenomenal coach and he's really helped take my diving to the next level," McCrory said. Duke, he added, "had the balance of athletics and academics that I was looking for, and also it felt right. It felt like home. It basically is home."

Both divers certainly were at their best during the Olympic trials last month in Federal Way, Wash.

McCrory claimed his first individual Olympic spot by finishing second in the 10-meter platform to synchro partner David Boudia of Purdue. That came after the pair cruised to an easy win in their tandem competition. Meanwhile, Johnston and Minnesota's Kelci Bryant claimed a narrow qualifying victory in their synchro event.

Now the challenge is to keep it going — and to avoid becoming intimidated by their surroundings.

"Just diving the way I know how and not getting wrapped up in the whole Olympic excitement," Johnston said. "And when I get on that board, just doing the dives the way I know how to do them, the way that I've done them for years."

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