By Rebecca Harris
Sports Capital Journalism Program
INDIANAPOLIS — Steele Johnson had the meet of his life and was rewarded with Diver of the Meet honors on the last day of competition after placing second in the platform event with 506.5 points.
He will also bring home two championship titles to Purdue for the 1-meter and 3-meter, which contributed to Purdue’s best finish in 55 years, 106.5 team points, for a 13th-place finish.
While Johnson hoped to sweep all three events, he was happy with second, especially as he took four months off after the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro to readjust, a common theme by NCAA athletes who have returned to post-Olympic life.
“It’s exciting for me to be a part of this team,” Johnson said. “Everyone did well in their own ways, whether that meant gold or winning a consolation final. Tonight, success for me meant silver.”
Johnson said that having won the first two events, it also took some of the pressure off of trying to win the third.
“Winning 1-meter really helped take the nerves off because I had 12 dives under my belt, and that showed in 3-meter,” he said. “And then I was really chill, really relaxed for platform.”
With a title in all three diving events, Johnson has matched Purdue alum David Boudia as the only diver in NCAA history to win all three in the course of his college career. Johnson said that trying to match Boudia’s legacy had been stressful at times.
“There is definitely pressure put on me by the school,” he said. “David Boudia has won six NCAA titles and won every event so coming in I knew there was that pressure. I just threw it out.”
Boudia was Johnson’s synchro partner in Rio, winning silver. Even more than that, Boudia has been a lifelong friend and mentor for Johnson. The younger diver tells stories of Boudia driving him to diving practice in Noblesville, Ind., where they grew up.
Boudia is flirting with the idea of retirement and both are busy since they parted ways after Rio, but Johnson says they still make time to see each other, especially with a big life change in the works for Johnson.
“He’s still a great friend and a mentor,” he said. “He’s just pouring wisdom into me with this whole marriage thing coming up. I’m excited to have him be a part of my wedding.”
Johnson and Hilary Nussbaum, his fiancee met last year, courtesy of her sister, who was in the same class as Johnson at Purdue.
He followed Nussbaum on Instagram, messaged her a few times, and their first date was a week before the Diving World Cup in Rio last winter at a coffee shop near the Purdue campus. She went to Rio to watch him compete. They were engaged on New Year’s Eve.
Johnson is looking forward to the wedding and returning to the national and international diving circuit.
“I knew I had to stay focused on my international meets as well,” he said. “This meet helped me do that and figure out what I need to work on in training.”