Miami Hurricanes fifth-year senior Sam Dorman comes from an athletic family, including both his grandfathers and his father who all played college basketball, at Pitt, Northern Arizona and Slippery Rock, respectively.
But Dorman, who at 5-9 is eight inches shorter than his dad and nine inches smaller than his paternal grandfather, took a different route.
The young man from Tempe, Arizona, became a diver.
Last week, he became a record-breaking NCAA championship diver, putting everyone in the country on notice that he’s a legitimate contender for the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.
Never miss a local story.
“He has an excellent chance,” Canes diving coach Randy Ableman said. “He is the strongest diver in the country who can do all the hard dives.”
Ableman knows quite a lot about the Olympics. He qualified for the 1980 Olympics as a diver but did not compete when the U.S. decided to boycott the Moscow Games for political reasons.
He has since coached in five consecutive Olympics — from 1996 to 2012 — and he knows that Dorman’s ability to make those difficult dives would give him a shot to medal in Brazil.
“If you don’t do the degree of difficulty,” Ableman said, “you have no chance.”
Dorman, 23, has overcome substantial adversity to get to this point, including missing his third year at Miami because of shoulder and hand surgeries.
Diving is a violent sport. Elite athletes such as Dorman are twisting, contorting and spinning their bodies in mid-air, entering the water at speeds of up to 35 mph.
“Your legs are always shot from jumping so much — diving takes a toll on your whole body,” Dorman said. “But missing that year was a blessing in disguise. It gave me time to study the sport and train more without having to compete.”
Dorman and the other Canes divers practice twice every weekday, totaling 20 hours per week.
Canes coaches, including assistant Dario Di Fazio, use high-definition cameras to help their athletes analyze dives in super-slow motion. And there’s also a video library of countless numbers of divers throughout the world that Dorman and his teammates can access for comparison purposes.
But all that work and all those high-tech gadgets could not solve Dorman’s consistency issues — until the final meet of his collegiate career, the NCAA championships in Iowa City, Iowa.
It wasn’t as if Dorman had been awful before that meet. After all, he earned All-American status in 2014.
Still, he struggled to repeatedly find the precise entry point into the pool at the end of his dives.
“The guy spins so fast,” Ableman said of Dorman, “sometimes he’s out of control.”
Added Dorman: “I was not consistent in landing on my head and not going short or over — going straight in. That has always been an issue. I’m doing these backs and reverses. You are spinning, and you don’t always know exactly where the water is.”
Dorman found the water in Iowa, breaking the NCAA 3-meter springboard record with 529.10 points.
He beat a field that included 2014 NCAA champion Michael Hixon of Indiana and 2013 champ Kristian Ipsen of Stanford, becoming Miami’s first NCAA champion diver since Brittany Viola won on the platform in 2011.
Dorman also became the Canes’ 13th NCAA diving champion since Ableman took over the program in the spring of 1989. And those 13 divers have combined to win 25 NCAA titles.
Set to graduate this spring with a degree in mechanical engineering, Dorman said he does not recommend combining the rigorous demands of diving with such a tough academic major.
But now that he is set to get his diploma, he hopes to gain a sponsor so he can train full time for the 2016 and 2020 Olympics.
“I made sure to take notes of what happened [in Iowa] and what was going through my head because I want to try to recreate that,” said Dorman, who aspires to one day become a diving coach.
“[Winning the NCAA title] was a relief. It was an unbelievable dream come true.”