Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Cooper makes Olympic bid

Former Whitman High diver narrowly misses berth to Beijing

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The approximate eight-hour road trip former Whitman High diver Matt Cooper took from Knoxville, Tenn. back to Maryland Sunday didn’t seem so bad. The four-time Washington Metropolitan Interscholastic Diving Championships winner (2004-2007) was coming off the biggest two weeks of his young diving career and had a lot to think about.

Cooper’s sixth-place performance on the 10-meter platform event at the Olympic Diving Trials June 18-22 at the University of Indiana qualified him for a U.S. Olympic Team Selection Camp July 2-6 in Knoxville, where he finished fourth on platform and third with partner Harry Jones (Houston) in the 3-meter springboard synchronization event. The winner in each event at Trials automatically qualified for the Olympics, the remaining top-6 finishers (in each event) go to the selection camp to compete for the second spot.

David Boudia, 19 of Noblesville, Ind. won the platform competition with 1,642.20 points, ahead of second-place Thomas Finchum (Indianapolis) and Drew Livingston (Texas) in third. Cooper, 19, wasn’t named to the 2008 Olympic squad. But he threatened the top and certainly put his name on the map as he sets his sights for the 2012 Olympics in London.

‘‘I learned that I can compete with the best divers and I’ve learned to always stay positive,” Cooper said. ‘‘I put up two personal bests over the past four days on platform. Being able to dive with these guys, this camp was the best out of the best. It was a great feeling.”

Diving is an intricate sport. Details matter. Judges look at all facets of the dive, including starting position and approach, take-off, flight and entry into the water. Divers must be precise as they enter each stage of each dive; making sure their timing is perfect.

With each big competition he participates in, Cooper, who’s been diving under the tutelage of John Wolsh and the Montgomery Dive Club since age 10, is picking up experience. And that will help him as he moves forward in his career.

‘‘I now know that it takes consistent, clean entries to win Olympic Trials,” Cooper said. ‘‘I may go in straight every time but I might not have the cleanest entries. And that’s what it takes. I have to try and go in and make no splash. I’m going to work a lot more on that.”

Cooper’s had a busy year. He wrapped up a successful freshman season at the University of Texas with a sixth-place performance in the platform event at the NCAA Championships in March. He’ll take a week off before gearing up for Senior Nationals in August and his sophomore season at Texas.

‘‘I was selected to be in the running for the Olympics,” Cooper said. ‘‘That was my goal for this year and it was really awesome to be able to achieve it.”