Can a television competition show tell the story of diving?
Briadam Herrera, 17, laughs at the question as he stands on the sun-baked pool deck at the University of Miami in Coral Gables.
“I don’t think so,” he says.
Briadam has just spent the last two hours executing complicated flips and twists in the air from the 3-meter springboard and the 10-meter platform that towers 33 feet. From up here, the young athlete will plummet to an abrupt stop in 16 feet of water at speeds that top 30 mph.
Briadam, a regional and state champion at Gulliver Preparatory High School, where he is a senior, is also the star diver at Miami Diving, a for-profit kids’ diving program at UM under coach Dario Di Fazio.
Talent, hard work and a forward-looking coach back home in Havana, brought Briadam to this spot.
Splash? Not so much. Briadam says he’s only seen a little bit of the reality program which crowned its winner two weeks ago.
But some locals in the sport hope the wacky TV show, which was based on its Dutch counterpart, brings some attention to the sport of diving in South Florida. While Miami Diving has been a fixture on the UM campus for three decades — and its senior college-level group at the school has placed a diver in every Summer Olympic Games since 1992 — it’s the only kids’ diving program in Miami-Dade. The sport could use a boost.
Miami Diving is one of just four diving programs for athletes 18 and younger in South Florida affiliated with the Gold Coast Diving Association, United States Diving and the Amateur Athletic Union (AAU). The other three are all in Broward County: the Fort Lauderdale Diving Team, Pine Crest Diving in Fort Lauderdale and Divingwell in Plantation.
Miami Diving draws its 38 members, ages 5 to 17, from a large territory that spans Islamorada and Homestead in the south to Hialeah and North Miami.
“A lot of people don’t know there’s a program,” said Di Fazio, 46, who competed for Venezuela in the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona and the 1996 Games in Atlanta on springboard and platform. “We do have the best program in the nation at the senior level, but at the age-group level we need to train more kids and have them involved. It takes a good eight years to develop an athlete.”
The state of diving in South Florida could be better, Di Fazio says, but he’s encouraged. “We used to have a lot more talent in the past, but as long as you have one, that’s all you need for the next generation.”
And for Miami Diving, that one appears to be Briadam. The one who, like a Greg Louganis or a Chen Ruolin, might inspire a boy or a girl to pick up the challenging activity which some liken to “gymnastics in the air” and bring glory to a sport that only seems to command the public’s attention every four years through telecasts of the Olympics and, recently, Splash.
The young athlete, who is expected to compete for the University of Miami in the fall under coach Randy Ableman and who has his eye on Rio for the 2016 Olympics, started diving in Havana when he was 8. He idolized Cuban diving champ José Guerra who has competed in four consecutive Olympics starting with the 2000 Games, and American Greg Louganis, the only diver to sweep all the diving events at two consecutive Olympics Games in 1984 and 1988.