When most Duke students were hardly able to think about getting off campus for the summer, Nick McCrory was already in Ft. Lauderdale. While Perkins Library was filled with people busily preparing for finals, McCrory was getting ready for a test of a different sort.
McCrory missed finals week at Duke to compete in the USA Diving Grand Prix in Florida. He’ll miss two more finals weeks this upcoming year as he takes the year off in order to pursue his Olympic dreams.
The Grand Prix is the only international diving event of the year held in the U.S., but it was not yet time for McCrory to put his best foot forward. He finished fifth at the event, and third in synchronized with his partner David Boudia, but he was still exhausted from his recently-ended NCAA season and was “training through” the event. Rather than tapering his training off in preparation, he maintained a full practice load through the event in anticipation of more consequential competition to come later in the summer.
And more competition was not long in coming, as he and Boudia traveled to Tallahassee, Fla. just four days after the conclusion of the Grand Prix for the World Championships Synchro Trials, the U.S.-only event whose champion would earn the right to represent the U.S. at the coming FINA World Aquatic Championships in Shanghai. McCrory and his partner took home the title, and secured themselves a journey to China.
Then, with Shanghai in sight, it was time to train. Two weeks at Duke by himself, two weeks at Duke with Boudia, then two weeks at Purdue University, where Boudia dives. All under the watchful eye of Duke head coach Drew Johansen, who also happens to be the head coach for USA Diving. All in preparation for one of the world’s biggest stages.
McCrory was excited that the competition would be held outdoors in Shanghai, though he noted that not every diver was as positive about it.
“You depend on your visual references a lot in diving,” he said. “Being outdoors, obviously it’s a little bit different because you don’t have a ceiling. Blue sky, and you’re going into a blue pool. Some people have trouble with that, but I’ve always loved diving outdoors.”
The world championships represented the first opportunity to qualify for the Olympics, and McCrory and Boudia each earned spots for the U.S., though they have yet to win the right to actually fill those spots. McCrory’s sixth-place finish was his highest ever in international competition, but Boudia outshined him in this meet with a second-place medal.
“[McCrory] showed to be one of the most consistent divers in the world,” Johansen said. “That’s what earned Team USA their opportunity to compete at the Olympic Games. The next step for Nick is to let it fly in the finals, to take that 500-point list and move on to the next step, getting those dives out the 8.5 range and up into the 9.5-10 range. ”
As a synchronized pair, McCrory and Boudia needed to finish in the top three in order to secure a place at the Olympics, but they came in fifth. McCrory blames himself for missing a dive that cost the duo its top-three standing, but the country’s top synchronized team will get a shot at redemption—and an Olympic berth—at the FINA Diving World Cup in February.
The top eight individual finishers at Shanghai receive invitations to participate in the FINA World Series, which held four international exhibitions last year in Russia, China, Great Britain and Mexico. McCrory has been invited before, but never been able to take off enough time from school and NCAA diving to attend more than one of the events each season. Now that he is not in school, he looks forward to the opportunity to enjoy the entire World Series tour while lengthening his international competition resume.
After returning home from Shanghai, his work still wasn’t complete, however. Not only was there another big competition to get ready for, but Johansen also decided it was time for McCrory to add a new dive to his list. With just a week to prepare the new dive for the National Diving Championships in Los Angeles, McCrory nonetheless began training his back arm stand double with two and a half twists. Fortunately, McCrory and Johansen had experimented with the dive in the past, and it only involved adding another twist to an existing dive in McCrory’s program.
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“Going into the world championships, he had one of the hardest lists in the world,” Johansen said. “This one extra dive, adding another twist to his arm stand, made it actually the hardest list in the world. I put it to him before we even left China that we needed to commit to this dive at this national championships to find out if it’s something we’ll be able to use next year.”
But why add the dive so soon before a major meet?
“Just because, why not?” he said. “It’s a dive that I’m going to need, and I figured that since I didn’t really feel as much pressure at these nationals, I just looked at it as a great opportunity to debut that dive…. I was a little reluctant at first, but Drew [Johansen] was just like, ‘You usually do things better when you’re forced to do them.’”
Despite fatigue and the uncertainty of a new dive, McCrory finished out his summer by bringing home the individual title at the national championships. He said that with world championships out of the way, he allowed himself more than usual to just relax and enjoy the meet, and it still resulted in a championship. The national championship title rounds out his American accolades, which already include an NCAA title, but he still has his eyes set on an international victory.
The World Cup in February will be key as he and Boudia seek an Olympic berth in synchronized, and McCrory will seek to earn for himself one of the individual Olympic slots at the U.S. Olympic Trials in June. He is confident that his international finishes will only improve from his sixth-place showing at the World Championships.
“I could’ve really put some dives down for nines and tens, but I was consistently in the 8.5 range,” he said. “The point that I want to get to is where I’m no longer thinking so much about my consistency, and I’m just letting myself relax and do my dives like I do in training.”