Among the Duke swimmers and divers receiving roses Saturday on the athletic deck of Taishoff Aquatic Pavilion was Abby Johnston, the Duke diver who returned from the 2012 Olympic Games in London this summer with a silver medal around her neck.
Duke lost to South Carolina in the dual meet, but the steamy Saturday also marked Senior Day for the Blue Devils. Johnston would have been a senior last year, but took off for training and returned with an Olympic silver medal in synchronized 3-meter springboard.
“Last year was difficult for me to be handing out the roses to all of the seniors instead of walking across the pool deck, and it was really tough,” Johnston said. “But the senior class this year has really welcomed me as one of their own and what a fun way to go out [Saturday] at our home pool.”
Johnston said she is now working on answering “the big question mark” of what she will do after graduation. She said she would love to keep diving, but has been battling shoulder injuries and will begin working on the daunting medical school application process in the next year.
“Knowing that my collegiate career is coming to an end is a strange mix of emotions, emotions that I didn’t expect,” Johnston said.
Fellow Olympian Nick McCrory, who earned a bronze at the Games would have been a senior had he not taken a year off for training, said he is just excited to be back with the team.
“I took that year off for a reason, and obviously I’m glad I did. I wouldn’t have been able to accomplish all that I did had I not done that,” he said. “It was a little bit sad because I won’t be graduating with all the people I came in with, but it just happens, and it’s something I had to do.”
For McCrory, returning to Duke has been a tough, but good, readjustment. Last year, most of his time went to training and recovery.
“You just get used to whatever it is that you’ve been doing,” he said. “Now it’s like, ‘Oh, I’m back in school now.’”
Johnston also noted that without the Olympics looming, she has had a different mindset when competing for Duke this year. Saturday, in her second competition of the 2012-13 season, Johnston received ACC Female Diver of the Week accolades for her first-place finish in the women’s 1-meter springboard. On the 1-meter board, she has collected 22 collegiate wins.
Despite her strong performance, Johnston noted that she wants to become more comfortable with competing again.
“I don’t know if its just the pressure I put on myself, having the silver medalist title or whether my expectations have changed, but I’ve been a lot more nervous so I want to try to calm my nerves in competition,” she said.
McCrory also secured a win in the 1-meter springboard and a second-place finish on the 3-meter board, in which classmate Jordan Long took first. McCrory said he is bringing lessons of perseverance from his Olympic training to this season.
“So far I’m… training well, which is exactly what my goal is for right now,” McCrory said. “As the rest of the season progresses, I’ll be bumping up some of my degree of difficulty—adding some harder dives and looking to increase my scores.”
Duke head coach Dan Colella noted that having Johnston and McCrory training with the team again is exciting.
“It’s very exciting to have Nick and Abby representing Duke again, and for them to come out and perform the way they did was absolutely terrific,” Colella said. “There’s no question [that] whenever you have athletes of [Olympic] caliber it’s going to raise the bar.”
Their presence on the team has also aided with recruitment, Colella added.
“The caliber of athlete that is really seriously looking at Duke on the diving side… has definitely gone up considerably in the last several years with what [Nick and Abby] have been doing,” he said.
But all in all, Colella emphasized how thankful he is for the seniors on the team and what they have done in the past few years.
“That was really great to send off our seniors, and we’re obviously very thankful for all that they have done for the last three years,” Colella said. “We want just to thank our seniors for all that they’ve done here, it was a great way to send them off at their last home meet.”