After a few months on the opposite side of the 10-meter platform, divers David Boudia and Tom Daley return to the competitor’s side, which is to say midair and water.
Boudia, gold medalist at the 2012 Olympics, is competing for the first time since London at the FINA USA Grand Prix that begins Thursday in Fort Lauderdale, and Daley, bronze medalist, is back for his second meet since last summer’s showdown.
It will be a rematch of sorts for Indiana’s Boudia and Great Britain’s Daley — minus silver medalist Qiu Bo of China.
The annual event features the world’s best divers from 21 countries at the Fort Lauderdale Aquatic Complex adjacent to the International Swimming Hall of Fame.
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Boudia and Daley have been busy with their blossoming TV careers, Boudia as a judge and Daley as a mentor on each of their countries’ versions of the reality show Splash, in which celebrities learn to dive. The American series had its season finale Tuesday, and freestyle skier Rory Bushfield was the winner. The ITV show concluded Saturday. Former British Olympic ski jumper Eddie “The Eagle” Edwards flew to first place.
“Voting off the athletes was the hardest part, especially eliminating Louie Anderson,” Boudia said of the comedian. “They trained so hard. To see where they started and where they wound up — I made a connection with them.”
Boudia said sitting in the judge’s chair allowed him to gain a sense of empathy for the pressure judges face in a subjective sport.
“It’s not a race where first one to the wall wins,” he said. “Of course, expert judges see thousands and thousands of dives, and they have a scale to follow. In our case, we could give a little help with our critiques and tips.”
Boudia and Daley agreed that the show brought unusual exposure to their sport.
“ Splash has put diving on prime time TV, and diving clubs all across the country have kept telling me that they now have waiting lists, following the popularity of the show,” Daley said recently in Scotland.
The celebs, through their struggles, also brought home to viewers just how dangerous diving can be.
“They either got themselves injured with a concussion or perforated eardrum or they took a nasty spill,” Boudia said. “When we fall through the air, we make it look easy. That’s from a lifetime of training.”
Boudia’s effortless grace on his sixth and final dive — a back 2 1/2 somersaults with 2 1/2 twists — clinched the gold medal in London. He earned the highest score of the night (102.6) to overtake Daley, then waited while Qiu made his final dive, which was not quite good enough to pass Boudia.
Boudia finished less than two points ahead of Qiu with a score of 568.65 to become the first American to win Olympic 10-meter gold since Greg Louganis in 1988. Boudia’s triumph was enormous for the U.S. diving team, which had been shut out of the medals at the 2004 and 2008 Olympics. Boudia escaped the preliminary round in the last spot. Daley also had a tough time advancing. But once Boudia was in the six-dive final, he entered a zen-like zone.
“I felt so relaxed I didn’t even realize the competition was ongoing,” he said. “It was an out-of-body experience. I remember climbing up the steps, and the next thing I knew I was swimming to the side.”
Boudia was not aware of his place in the standings until he saw the leaderboard at the end and his fellow divers congratulated him and told him to smile.
“During the fifth round the crowd went nuts because of Tom,” he said. “I did hear that, but I had no idea where I stood. I was totally astonished.”
Boudia attributed his sense of peace to his religious faith. At the 2008 Beijing Olympics, where he finished 10th, he was diving for himself, he said.
“I was diving for my glory,” he said. “In 2012, I wasn’t chasing gold. I wanted to dive my best and dive for the glory of God.”
Daley was Great Britain’s youngest ever Olympic competitor at the 2008 Olympics, which made him famous at age 15. In London, not only did he face hometown pressure and distracting adoration, but he was still grieving the loss of his father, who had died after the recurrence of a brain tumor. After Daley missed a medal in the synchronized event, he received a cruel tweet about letting down his dad.
Both divers overcame their nerves and stole the spotlight from world champ Qiu. Boudia, 24, a Purdue student who got married in October, can look back at his start in the sport and laugh. He burned out in gymnastics and gave up soccer at age 13 to pursue diving but initially was “petrified” of the platform.
“You are three stories up,” he said. “I had to conquer my fear. I used to draw my dives over and over again. I’m the worst artist, so I’d draw step-by-step stick figures doing the dives I was going to do in practice. Once I got there, I had already done the dives 100 times on paper and in my mind.”