When you’re a world-class diver and spend the better part of your life training for the Olympics, you don’t envision that on the day of the Olympic final, you’ll be at an outdoor venue and it will be raining, 65 degrees, windy and the pool will be a murky shade of green.
But those were the conditions that awaited former University of Miami diver Sam Dorman and the rest of the Olympians at the Maria Lenk Aquatic Center for the 3-meter synchronized diving competition late Wednesday afternoon.
Dorman, in turns out, was delighted with the foul weather, undeterred by the color of the water, and teamed with Mike Hixon to win the silver medal with a score of 450.21. Jack Laugher and Chris Mears of Great Britain took the gold with 454.32 points, and the team of Cao Yuan and Qin Kai of China won the bronze medal with 443.70.
Competing in their first international meet together, Dorman and Hixon saved their best for last, earning the highest score of the competition (98.04) on their last dive — a risky 4 1/2-somersault that carries a 3.8 degree of difficulty. When they entered the water forcefully and perfectly synchronized, the American fans in the stands went crazy, and UM coach Randy Ableman started jumping around on the deck.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to the Miami Herald
Hixon, of the University of Indiana, emerged from the water and roared. Dorman, the 2015 NCAA Champions with UM, pumped his fist then looked over at Ableman and threw up the universal sign for Hurricane pride — the “U.”
It was a special moment for Ableman, a member of the 1980 U.S. team that boycotted the Olympics. He has coached in seven Olympics, but Dorman was his first medalist.
“I looked at my coach, he threw up the ‘U’ so of course I’ve got to throw it back,” Dorman said. “I was very excited to look at him and see him so happy. He didn’t get to compete in his Olympics in 1980, so to have him here and experience that with him was a very touching moment. He was one hell of a diver.”
Ableman described the moment as “absolute exhilaration” and said it was an extremely meaningful moment in his career.
“I’ve been at this a long time, been to quite a few Olympics, and this is the first time I was fortunate enough to coach someone who won a medal,” Ableman said. “I can shut that box now.”
Ableman and Dorman chatted on an Olympic Village balcony Tuesday night, and Ableman told Dorman his dream was that it would come down to that last difficult dive, and that is exactly what happened.
The rain, Dorman said, worked to their advantage.
“Scott Donie [1992 Olympic silver medalist] told us a great thing; he said, ‘Pray for rain,’ ” Dorman said. “And [Wednesday] we got that. Both of us were actually very excited that the weather was bad. I train in Miami, so I’m used to training in bad weather.”
“We train in that and worse in Miami,” he said. “I always say inclement weather gives Miami divers a bit of an edge.”
As for the green water, Dorman and Hixon said they had no problem with it. In fact, it was easier to see than blue water, which sometimes blends with the sky.
The water wasn’t supposed to be green though. It was supposed to be blue, like the swimming pool, but according to a statement by FINA, the world aquatics federation:
“The reason for the unusual water color observed during the Rio 2016 diving competitions is that the water tanks ran out of some of the chemicals used in the water treatment process. As a result, the pH level of the water was outside the usual range, causing the discoloration.”
The Rio 2016 organizing committee added: “We did an investigation and the causes are a decrease in the alkalinity of the pool. We have treated the pools and the alkalinity levels have already improved. We anticipate the color will return to normal very shortly.”
Despite the odd color, the FINA Sport Medicine Committee tested the water quality and concluded that there was “no risk to the health and safety of the athletes.” So the competition went on as planned.
Another glitch that turned out to help Dorman was a mix-up with the Mexican team that dove just before the Americans. The stadium lights turned on suddenly, the Mexicans were bothered by it and asked for a do-over. After a delay, they were denied another chance, and Dorman and Hixon walked over to the boards for their final dive.
“For me, [the Mexican delay] was a good distraction because I tend to think too much,” Dorman said. “Going into that last round, and having that delay, it’s like, ‘What’s going on?’ Next thing you know my mind’s not on diving. For me, that was good. I could just go into autopilot and let my body do what it needs to do. When he hit that last dive, we knew we had a medal.”