|Aug 04||No pressure. No hype. No worries.|
For the first time in nearly a century, U.S. divers are coming to an Olympics without any medals to defend.
"I guess that makes it easy on us," former gold medalist Laura Wilkinson said. "Any great news will be a happy surprise."
Wilkinson knows all about surprises. Eight years ago at the 2000 Summer Games, she stunned diving's elite by winning the platform gold medal in Sydney. Four years later, U.S. divers didn't win any medals in Athens - the first time in 92 years no American diver stood on an Olympic podium.
Once dominant in the sport, U.S. divers have been surpassed over the last two decades by the Chinese, who won five of eight gold medals in Sydney and six of eight in Athens. Many predict home-standing China will win all eight gold medals when diving competition begins Sunday in Beijing.
"The whole group is really good. We expect them to be at their best," Wilkinson said. "
Troy Dumais and Wilkinson, both three-time Olympians, hope to prevent a China sweep with some help from their young teammates. Ten of the 12 U.S. divers will be competing in their first Olympics, and half the Americans are teenagers.
"They're generally younger, but they're strong," said Wilkinson, 30. "They're very consistent. They're great divers. It's good, because they push all of us. I feel like they make me a better diver, because I want to be competitive with them.
"It's good. It raises the level of diving for everyone."
A common goal helped bond this U.S. team long before its long flight touched down in Beijing.
"This is my family," said Dumais, sixth on the three-meter board in his two previous Olympics. "Other than my family at home, this is a diving family. We're very tight and balanced to the point where we bring out the best in each other.
"We have one of the best teams I've ever seen. United. Friendly. Fun-loving. We learn from our mistakes. We are a very tightly-bound team. We dive as one team - - team USA."
The Americans' success could very well depend on Wilkinson's ability to score well on her back 2½ twisting 2½ somersault, a dive that gave her problems in the preliminaries at last month's national championships.
"I was nervous. I did a lot better in the finals," Wilkinson said. "I came out a little early, but it was a much better takeoff.
"We're going to keep working on it and probably decide next week if we'll use it or not. It's the takeoff (that's key). If you get excited and you go too early, you don't get the speed."
This Olympics will probably be the last for Wilkinson who likely will retire from competitive diving after she returns to the States. Following her fifth-place platform finish in Athens, she thought about retiring four years ago, but those thoughts were only fleeting.
"I had a feeling I wasn't done yet," she said. "I wanted to keep going another four years. I'm glad I did, but I'll probably retire after this."
Wilkinson will bow out fully confident that she gave this Olympics her best.
"If I put my dives together, I have a shot at gold," Wilkinson said. "All the pieces are there. It's always about who's on their mental game on that day, at that moment. Diving is a crazy sport. You've got five rounds, and you never know what's gong to happen."
Unlike his teammate, Dumais is not ready to walk away from the pool.
"Right now, I'm loving to dive," said Dumais, 28. "I'm having fun doing it. It's possible I could go another four years. It's possible I could go another two. It all depends on how I'm feeling. When the love of diving is gone, that's when it's time for me to walk away and retire."
But those lifelong dreams of winning an Olympic medal won't be the reason Dumais lingers.
"Not having a medal doesn't fire me up and drive me to what I want to do," he said. "I know how to dive. I've trained my whole life to do it. I know that what I'm capable of doing is good enough. What ever happens, happens, but I know I'm ready for this meet."
Tommy Hine is a freelance contributor for teamusa.org. This story was not subject to the approval of the United States Olympic Committee or any National Governing Bodies.