Olympic diving in the United States is in a bit of a drought. The last U.S. Olympic gold in the sport came 20 years ago and no American diver has earned a spot anywhere on the medals stand in the past two games.
But, a former Purdue diver, who will compete in two events in London, is hoping to spark an American resurgence.
Hand stands, running starts, back flips.
No matter how David Boudia dives from the top of the ten meter platform into the water, it’s always fast and always aggressive. It’s like he’s attacking the sky. But coming down, he’s graceful.
I climbed the stairs up to the ten meter platform at Purdue University where he trains and even getting up there is a feat.
And even more so for Boudia, who isn’t particularly fond of heights.
"You look down and it's three stories high, but, it's another two-and-a-half to the bottom of the pool, so you have to be crazy to jump off something like that," he joked.
It took the 23 year old from Noblesville some time to connect with diving.
His Olympic aspirations started at a young age, but initially they involved sports a little closer to the ground.
“I actually thought I would go [to the Olympics] in gymnastics," he said. "Gymnastics didn't really work out for me so I started diving a little more.”
And how’d he get over his issues with heights?
"Lots of visualization. Lots of trust,” said Boudia.
Dan Ross heads the swimming and diving program at Purdue in West Lafayette, Indiana. He describes what it’s like to see Boudia divve.
“It’s like going out to a really, really nice restaurant and ordering something and you know it’s going to be good. You know it’s going to be good, and it’s even better than you thought,” he said.
This is Boudia’s second Olympics. Four years ago, the Chinese divers dominated the diving events in the games they hosted, winning gold in all but one competition.
"You know the pressure is there. You know the United States hasn’t medaled," said Boudia. "But, a fault I think we went wrong in 2008 was focusing so much on getting these medals."
At the Beijing Games, Boudia finished 10th in the individual 10-meter platform and 5th with his partner in synchronized diving.
Boudia’s first Olympic experience was an eye opener.
"I was 19 years old at the biggest spectacle in sports, the biggest stage that you could be on, the Olympic games. Just learning what I was chasing after in 2008 was trying to get this medal and trying to get fame and trying to get recognition and that all just deteriorates and never lasts," he said.
Boudia hit a breaking point after he returned from China.
“I didn’t have any faith. I didn’t really have a commitment with God and that was a big growing experience.”
Adam Soldati is Boudia’s diving coach. He believes David’s growth as a diver is the result of him maturing in and out of the pool.
“In '08 he was really chasing after a lot of things that he thought would bring him happiness and satisfaction, which is fame and glory, all that kind of stuff," said Soldati. "I think he realized after '08 that that doesn't satisfy and he really has a redefined purpose.”
And Boudia hopes that purpose can help redefine the current perception of American diving.
Last year he took a pivotal step in establishing himself as an Olympic threat. He won silver at the World Championships in Shanghai.
By doing so, he became the first American man to medal at the Championships in a quarter century.
The last – Greg Louganis.
"It was great. He put it together and really that’s what he’s going to need to do in London."
The four time Olympic gold medalist is mentoring Boudia and other American divers competing at the London games.
“In ’04 and ’08 a lot of the competitors were like deers in headlights," said Louganis. "They may have been prepared physically, but they weren’t prepared mentally and emotionally for what they were about to face.”
But, Louganis now believes Boudia has a great chance to win a medal.
"I think David has a better sense of belonging that he deserves to be there. And you have to have that in order to compete and compete effectively on that level on the Olympic stage."
David Boudia’s dream is to win an Olympic medal and he’s as close as ever to making that dream come true.
“My confidence level with my diving has grown a lot and the character behind it has just totally changed in terms of as perspective," he said.
"I’m not in control up there. It’s not me who is trying to get the scores. I’m just trying to dive for God’s glory. When I have the contentment of that, it just totally puts perspective on why I am doing this and how I am doing it.”
Regardless of whether he wins a medal in London or not, Boudia plans to continue his Olympic journey in 2016 in Rio de Janeiro.