Making My Splash With Team USA Diving
There’s something about a Team USA competition that always makes me think that the event staff would be startled to come across someone onsite who is not: (a) an athlete taking part in the competition; (b) a friend or family member of a competitor; or (c) a member of the facility management staff. These dedicated people work so hard to create an environment in which their athletes can shine – yet the thought that others may enjoy watching them shine appears never to occur to them.
It was a day whose name ended in “y”, so traffic was heavy in SoCal – thus causing me to run a few minutes late for the start of the USA Diving National Preliminaries. So I can’t say this with absolute certainty, but based on the sub-low-key (no-key?) nature of the event that I came to witness, I probably didn’t miss much in the way of opening ceremony pomp and circumstance. In fact, within a few minutes of taking a bleacher seat in the Mission Viejo Aquatic Complex, I started to wonder if I had come to the right place.
Sure there were diving boards of various types, and people springing off of them into a pool with a great deal of proficiency…but no signs, banners, or printed material to pick up at the front entrance. In fact, I never did figure out if there was a front entrance. A custodian saw me standing on the sidewalk peering into the facility and came over to unlock the gate. I half expected to be hustled out by the Diving Police. “Nothing to see here, folks. Just an elite competition with national ramifications. Come on, keep it moving now.”
Were it not for the P.A. system, I might still be wandering around the Costa Del Sol recreation complex in Mission Viejo, looking for a competition. And having now seen what a close-knit sport this is, I’m a little surprised they didn’t dispense with the annoucements’ amplification and just talk amongst themselves.
I wonder if Team USA athletes ever ask why, outside of the Olympics, nobody is ever in the stands when they compete?
In any case, once I got comfortable with the idea that I wasn’t going to be asked to leave, I started to focus more closely on my surroundings. As I sat there luxuriating in the sunshine of my spacious section of bleachers, this is what I heard from a disembodied male voice:
“David…107C…2.7” Splash. “Awards: 4 ½, 4, 5, 4 ½, 5”
And then, in full compliance with Title IX, I also heard from a disembodied female voice:
“Amy…403A…2.4” Splash. “Awards: 5 ½ Bingo”
Because…well, I don’t know why, but both men’s and women’s competitions were being conducted at the same time. From where I sat, the women were to the left side of my view, diving from 3-meter springboards, while to my right the men were competing from 1-meter boards.
Under separate tents set up on the pool deck were several judges who displayed white scoring cards after each dive so that the hidden voices could read them off. I never did get a look behind the curtain at the great and powerful Wizards of Diving.
At first I thought that, for the benefit of the onlookers, alternating dives were in use – first a male diver, then a female diver. But that was just a momentary coincidence. These were fully concurrent competitions, all but oblivious of each other. If the timing synched up well though, all I had to do was shift my gaze back and forth to watch basically a continuous stream of bodies hurtling fearlessly through the air.
It was tough to get a feel for exactly how many athletes were taking part, and how many rounds of dives were taking place, but I did notice that several divers’ hair had fully dried in between their dives. And from some advance research I knew that from this tidal wave (sorry, bad water pun) of people, they had to narrow the field to 12 divers of each gender for the Finals – which would in turn determine who moved on to next month’s AT&T National Diving Championships in College Station, TX.
Since this was a fan’s DIY experience, in order to figure out the all-important “who’s winning” thing, I had to pick the scoring system up on the fly and solicit input from wherever I could. I hypothesized that the announced numbers that preceded the individual dive consisted of a code that described the exact dive that they would be performing (and there are lots of alternatives), and the degree of difficulty of the dive. Then, the numbers that came after the dive and the announcer’s call for “Awards” were the individual scores given by the five judges. And damned if I wasn’t right!
I was particularly proud that I was able to deduce that “Bingo” described a dive in which the same score was awarded across the board – i.e. that “5 ½ Bingo” meant that each judge individually determined that the dive merited a score of 5 ½. These USA Diving folks are real cut-ups.
I couldn’t pinpoint the actual scale in use for scoring dives on the high end, but on the low end it was a “1” – unless it was actually a “0”, but considered rude to hand out anything below a “1”. I say this because I witnessed a fair share of “1′s”. These kids were basically fearless, and on occasion bit off a little more than they could chew, difficulty-wise. When this happened, being the rookie diving fan that I was, I flinched in sympathy – and probably even let out a gasp now and again. But nobody else on the entire pool deck even batted an eye. You know it’s a tough crowd when a double gainer turns into an unintended cannonball, and all the enterprising diver gets is, in full monotone, “Awards: 1, 1½, 1½ , 1, 1½”. Kind of the water-based version of “go rub some dirt in it”.
Partly because I am a razor-sharp sporting mind, and partly because I had an endless stream of dives take place in front of me, I began to get pretty good at this judging thing. After about an hour, I could usually peg a number to a dive and be right in there with what the rest of the judges awarded. I did successfully squelch the urge to go all John McEnroe (“You can not be SERIOUS!”) when the esteemed panel came up with something different than did I. After all, they did have a bit more of a track record on this sort of thing. And I was still instinctively looking over my shoulder now and then for the Diving Police.
To be continued…