Garrett Park resident Steph Hooton and her 10-year-old daughter Lan already had been looking forward to watching the diving competition at this summer’s Olympic Games in London.
After meeting several members of Team USA on Saturday at the Kennedy Shriver Aquatic Center in North Bethesda, including 3-meter synchronized diver Kelci Bryant, Hooton said the two will be cheering a little bit louder at the television.
Montgomery County Recreation has been hosting the 11-athlete U.S. Olympic Diving Team for a four-day training session Thursday through Sunday in preparation for the London Games, which will run from July 27 through Aug. 12.
It is the first time the whole team has been together as a unit since the athletes were selected at the Olympic Team Trials last month.
All practice sessions have been open to the public.
“[For my daughter] to be able to see these [athletes] excelling, it’s great for goal setting. It’s really an inspiration,” Hooton said. “It’s very kind of these athletes to take the time to stop and talk to us. They’re from other parts of the country but it was almost like they could’ve lived a block away.”
Montgomery County Recreation was selected as the training site because of the optimal diving amenities available to the athletes, according to a news release. The department operates four indoor swim centers, including the pristine facility in North Bethesda and the Germantown Indoor Swim Center, which hosted a send-off dive show Saturday night.
“[USA Diving] was looking for somewhere on the East Coast, which is closer to London, somewhere they would also have a dryland facility,” said Gabe Albornoz, the director of Montgomery County Recreation. “That connection to Washington, D.C., having the nation’s capital serve as the backdrop for the athletes, is just that one percent extra motivation, I think. This has been a great opportunity for [local residents] to see world-class diving up close and personal. Watching on TV doesn’t do this justice.”
Second-year Montgomery Dive Club Program Director Doug Beavers, who has been a member of the USA Diving Executive Board and is a former President of the United States Professional Diving Coaches Association, was instrumental in bringing Team USA to Montgomery County.
Unlike in other areas in the country, he said, diving is part of the culture in the Washington Metropolitan Area.
Hosting Olympic-caliber athletes in his training facilities, Beavers added, will help generate even more interest in the non-mainstream sport.
And, it has provided a good send-off for Team USA.
“All these practices have had an awesome feel,” said Nick McCrory, who will represent the U.S. in the 10-meter and 10-meter synchronized events. “There were people in the stands clapping if we did a good dive. It’s been a really great experience.”
Divers are unique, Beavers said, because even at the highest level of the sport, athletes remain accessible. And experiences like this week’s open practices are huge formative experiences, he added.
“We would have paid attention to [diving at the Olympics] anyway, it’s a beautiful sport to watch and these athletes have to be so gutsy,” Hooton said. “[My daughter] has her hat with autographs and her shirt. I think we might be cheering a little louder now.”