Eight South Florida athletes compete at U.S. Olympic Diving Trials with eyes on Rio

South Florida’s top contender at the U.S. Olympic Diving Trials is former Hurricanes diver Sam Dorman.
South Florida’s top contender at the U.S. Olympic Diving Trials is former Hurricanes diver Sam Dorman. AP

South Florida will be well represented with eight athletes competing at the U.S. Olympic Diving Trials starting Saturday in Indianapolis.

But making the team that will go to the Rio de Janeiro Games in August is another matter altogether.

Randy Ableman, who has been coaching Olympic-caliber divers at the University of Miami for three decades, said this year’s edition of the make-or-break meet is one of the most wide open in memory because a new generation of young divers will be contending for precious spots.

“There’s a logjam of talent in several events,” Ableman said. “A little mistake here or there, and four years’ worth of work means you’re either going to the Olympics or you’re very disappointed.”

U.S. swimming, which takes the top two finishers plus relay athletes at its trials, and track and field, which takes the top three plus relay athletes at its trials, like to claim they are the toughest Olympic teams to make, but diving is even more merciless.

The top two divers in the men’s 10-meter platform, men’s 3-meter springboard, women’s 10-meter and women’s 3-meter individual events will be selected. Only one duo in each of the men’s synchronized 10-meter, men’s synchronized 3-meter and women’s synchronized 10-meter will be selected. The United States did not qualify for women’s synchro 3-meter.

The one prohibitive favorite is David Boudia of Indiana, whose 2012 Olympic gold in 10-meter and bronze in 10-meter synchro put a dent in China’s domination of the podium.

South Florida’s top contender is former UM diver Sam Dorman. He’s had a strong string of performances this year on 3-meter and 3-meter synchro with partner Kristian Ipsen. But at a recent USA Diving training camp, team leaders decided to switch the combinations so that Dorman is now diving with Michael Hixon and Ipsen is paired with Troy Dumais. Ipsen and Dumais won bronze at the 2012 Olympics.

“Sam and Kristian are close friends, so it was painful and hard on everyone and the timing was terrible,” Ableman said. “But I believe it’s for the best. Sam and Michael can do more difficult dives because they are both so powerful, and it will take that type of list to earn an Olympic medal.”

Dorman is feeling good despite competing for months with a torn labrum in his shoulder. A cortisone shot and pain management enabled Dorman to keep going rather than have surgery that would have ended his season.

“I’m definitely willing to risk my body for the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity of making the Olympic team,” Dorman said.

The degree of difficulty on Dorman’s list is his strength.

“Sam does a front  4 1/2 [somersaults] that only a few guys in the U.S. even attempt and it’s his best dive,” Ableman said. “He can be a little inconsistent.”

Kassidy Cook, who grew up in Plantation and started diving under coach Dave Burgering, has recovered from a series of injuries to become a favorite in 3-meter.

She missed making the 2012 team in synchro by less than half a point at age 17. Then she survived  3 1/2 years of setbacks: Two labrum surgeries, meniscus surgery and a broken collarbone.

“It was a long road but I never lost sight of my goals,” she said. “I really want to medal at the Olympics — and gold is my favorite color.”

Cook is from a diving family that moved to Texas to train at the Woodlands. Her coach, Ken Armstrong, coached Laura Wilkinson to gold. Cook is taking a year off from Stanford University. She used to dive 10-meter but prefers springboard.

“I like the rhythm,” she said. “The spring is exhilarating. You have to have a good relationship with the board.”

Cook is strong on reverse dives. She calls her reverse  2 1/2 pike “my go-to dive.”

David Dinsmore, a redshirt freshman his first year at UM, made the world take notice when he won bronze on 10-meter at the Rio World Cup at the outdoor Olympic venue.

“He’s a fierce competitor but doesn’t quite have the difficulty yet,” Ableman said. “He can do perfect entries with a knack for doing it under pressure.”

Briadam Herrera — a native of Cuba whose parents named him after singer Bryan Adams — is a Gulliver Academy graduate and sophomore at UM. He finished second in the NCAA championships in 3-meter.

“He’s special but his consistency isn’t where it needs to be,” Ableman said. “Our goal is get to finals and show people what he’s got — including a reverse  3 1/2 tuck.”

Cheyenne Cousineau, who graduated from UM a year ago after taking NCAA bronze on 10-meter, is not a favorite — that would be Amy Cozad — but should be in contention in what will probably be her last meet.

Up-and-comer Wally Layland is a UM sophomore and daughter of former UM diver Lenny Layland. She is still building power and difficulty on 10-meter, a punishing event.

Fort Lauderdale Diving Team coach Burgering is bringing two promising 10-meter divers to Indianapolis.

Ryan Hawkins, a Virginia Tech graduate from Charlotte, North Carolina, is an unusually fast spinner.

“He can make difficult dives and enter the water amazingly clean,” Burgering said. “Sometimes he can get disoriented so we’re working on his control.”

Johanna Holloway, 15, of Boynton Beach, is also an efficient spinner.

“She is capable of great rip entries,” Burgering said. “She’s young. But you never know what may happen at trials if the stars line up right for you.”