SANTA MONICA, California. The 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro were still 347days away yesterday, but you couldn’t tell from the determined looks on the faces of the hard-core athletes who were gathered at an outdoor pool and diving facility here. “A lot of people don’t have a sense of urgency about it but I do,” says coach Mark Wertz with an edge in his voice. “By the time people read that first sentence, it will be down to 346 days.”
Wertz is putting his charges through their paces today because he doesn’t want to lose a single minute available for practice, and he watches closely as Tyler Scher, a 19-year-old prospect from Indianapolis, climbs the ten-meter springboard for his first try. “These kids are so green,” Wertz says, shaking his head. “I hope we’re ready by the time we get on that plane.”
As he says these last words sotto voce, Scher walks to the edge of the board, bounces, flies high in the air and then enters the water clumsily, making a splash big enough to put him out of contention in most diving competitions.
“Good work, Ty,” Wertz says as he makes a note on his ever-present clipboard. “You got good volume on your splash, but we need to work on the height.”
Scher and the others assembled here this morning hope to represent the U.S. in the first Olympic competition of its kind, performing one of the five classic jumps–cannonball, jack knife, preacher’s seat, suicide and “back splat”–into a pool ringed by a panel of international judges. “I coulda been a diver,” says Tony DiStafano, an earnest sixteen-year-old from West Hartford, Connecticut, “but I like to make a splash.”
“You want to lean back into it a little more.”
Because many of the compulsory pool jumps are American creations, the U.S. team is expected to have a built-in edge when for the first time the sport advances beyond the “demonstration” stage, but Wertz is leaving nothing to chance. “I don’t buy that for a minute,” says Wertz. “The Eastern European women are the dark horse in the race, especially with all that hair on their upper lips.”