After they came, saw and conquered in London, Abby Johnston and Nick McCrory received a hero’s welcome to go along with their Olympic medals.
Johnston and McCrory returned to the United States last week to a crowd of friends, fans and reporters at Raleigh-Durham International Airport. The pair were the first divers in Duke history to qualify for the Olympic Games.
“It was amazing to feel that support. I really wasn’t expecting that much. I was just walking to baggage claim thinking that I was going to go home and have a quiet night,” McCrory said. “I knew there was going to be some media stuff, but to that degree I had no idea. It was really cool. It was great to feel the support and see some of my friends and family who came out to see me at the airport. I really felt that support the entire time I was in London as well.”
Johnston and McCrory earned the first U.S. diving medals since 2000 when Johnston and her partner, Kelci Bryant, won the silver medal in the women’s synchronized 3-meter springboard event. McCrory and his diving partner, David Boudia, followed suit the next day when they took bronze in the men’s synchronized 10-meter platform competition.
The medals were the first ever for the U.S. in synchronized diving.
“It was really great to be a part of that. You had that feeling that the teams, the way we worked together, everyone had this sense that good things were going to happen,” Johnston said. “Kelci and I started it off with the silver medal and got the ball rolling. It was really exciting to watch the rest of my team perform really well and make history.”
In addition to his bronze in the synchronized competition, McCrory also competed individually in the men’s 10-meter platform, making it to the final round and finishing ninth. He watched as Boudia, now his opponent, stunned Qiu Bo of China, the event’s favorite, and local heartthrob Tom Daley of Great Britain, to take the United States’ first gold medal from the platform since Greg Louganis at the 1988 Olympic Games.
McCrory would have loved to earn a gold medal of his own, but the bronze held a special significance for the McCrory family. Nick finally had a bronze medal to match his uncle, Gordon Downie, who earned a bronze for Great Britain in the 4x200m freestyle relay at the 1976 Olympics in Montreal. A few days before McCrory was set to compete in the Olympics for the first time, he had dinner with Downie, sharing a special moment between Olympians.
“It’s just really cool having that connection in the first place. It almost seemed like a sign that I was going to walk away from the Olympics with a medal, and a bronze at that,” McCrory said.
For the 21-year-old McCrory, the Olympics were about much more than competing. He said some of his favorite memories of the Games came far away from the diving well.
“Being in the Olympic environment, you hear so much about the Olympics and what to expect, and you form this image in your mind what it’s going to be like. But you never know what it’s like until you go there,” McCrory said. “It takes you by surprise how epic everything is. The [Olympic] Village was amazing, and all of the venues were incredible.”
After taking time away from school last year to train for the Olympic Trials, Johnston and McCrory will return to Duke this Fall for the first time in more than a year. Now Olympic medalists, they look forward to rejoining their classmates and concentrating on their studies in Durham.
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“I’m so happy to be coming back to Duke. I can’t wait,” McCrory said. “We’re going to be regular students for a little while.”
Addressing the media alongside Duke men’s basketball head coach Mike Krzyzewski, who led the U.S. to a second consecutive gold medal at the London Games, McCrory admitted that he and Johnston were a bit star struck when they shared a moment with the Blue Devil coach at the airport.
“When we talked to him it was just so cool. He was following our progress at the Olympics and it felt like we were such a team, because we really were representing Duke and I felt so proud to be doing that,” McCrory said. “It just felt really awesome to be sharing that with Coach K.”