Diver Amanda Burke, 25, is your classic late-bloomer.
Burke, who grew up in suburban Philadelphia, started to dive in 1993 as a 6-year-old but without serious intent. She never competed on the national junior diving scene. When she matriculated at Rider University she did not go as a scholarship athlete, although she received minor financial assistance for her final three years before graduating in 2010.
On Thursday at the Fort Lauderdale Aquatic Center, Burke reached the final of the 2013 Fina USA Grand Prix 3-meter springboard event with a score of 297.70, finishing in second place behind Liu Jiao of China with a 322.90 in their semifinal grouping. Tina Punzel of Germany also qualified from their group with 295.90 points.
This week marks Burke’s first foray into competing in an individual international diving meet.
“My goal was just to make the semifinals, so I guess it’s gone well,” said Burke, describing herself as an avid Phillies and Eagles fan. “I never did juniors or anything, so nobody knows really who I am. My first senior nationals [were] in 2009. I was having fun with it, which is probably why I’m not burnt out.”
It was only at the suggestion of her Rider coach, Dennis Ceppa, who she now works with at George Mason University’s complex in Northern Virginia, that the petite Burke began to contemplate diving seriously with the goal competing in the 2016 Olympics in Brazil.
“She’s finally coming into her own and is realizing what she could be capable of and is becoming more aggressive,” Ceppa said. “Because she didn’t dive juniors, she’s still very excited about it. That makes training easier, to put in all the hours. She’s an awesome story.”
Besides putting in time diving, Burke works full-time as a personal trainer. She needs to pay off student loans, after all.
Burke achieved a clean semifinal except for her fourth dive — a reverse 2 1/2 pike — for which she only received 40.50 points.
“I was a little back on that dive, and that’s when I get scared,” Burke said. “That dive is a little struggle for me. I just tried staying in the moment and enjoying the ride.”
The day went from future Olympic hopeful to Olympic champion when David Boudia competed in the platform semifinal. For Boudia, Thursday was his first competitive outing since winning the 2012 Olympic gold medal in platform last summer.
Boudia eased into Saturday’s final with a 465.85 points, but his score was surpassed by Chinese rivals Zhang Yanquan (529.65) and Yuan Cao (504.10), who teamed together to take home the 2012 Olympic gold in the synchro platform event.
It didn’t help Boudia’s semifinal score that he flubbed his final dive of the day, landing on his back after attempting a back 2 1/2 with 2 1/2 twists. “That was horrible, huh?” was all he could say of the dive. The judges agreed and only awarded him 45.00 points.
Boudia, who said he has been spending time capitalizing on his position as a reigning Olympic champion, doing things like being a judge on the diving reality TV show Splash, admitted being at this meet is truly making him feel like an Olympic champion.
“It seems real that I won the gold after the intercom today was saying it so much,” Boudia said. “It’s fun to compete and have that title under your belt. I think it’s maybe a reliever.”
British star Tom Daley, who won the 2012 Olympic bronze in platform, has an elbow injury and withdrew from the meet.