By Rebecca Harris | @MsRebeccaHarris
RIO DE JANEIRO — The Barcelona 1992 Olympic Games had the Dream Team. London’s Games in 2012 had the Fierce Five. Rio 2016 has the “Perfect 10.”
The “Perfect 10” is two-time Olympian Abby Johnston’s brainchild, born shortly after the U.S. Olympic Team Trials for Diving wrapped up in June.
“We took a party bus from the pool at Olympic Trials to the celebration for everyone who had made the Olympic team,“ Johnston said. “So it was just the divers on the bus.” As the music played, the 10 athletes who qualified for the 2016 U.S. Olympic Diving Team collectively decided that an official team nickname was needed.
“I can’t remember some of the options that were thrown out but then I was like, ‘How about Perfect 10?’” said Johnston. “It stuck.”
The Perfect 10, referring to both the 10 team members and diving’s 10-point scoring system, is in contention for several medals. The squad looks to match the four-medal haul from London, where Team USA ended a 12-year medal drought with three medals in synchronized events and David Boudia’s gold in 10-meter.
This time, they have at least one factor in their favor: The team has trained in both Rio and João Pessoa over the last week, both under the less-than-ideal conditions that will mark the 2016 Olympic competition.
“The craziest wind conditions I’ve ever been in,” said Boudia, who competed in both Beijing in 2008 and London.
The U.S. team landed in Rio on July 25, meaning that the first diving event on Aug. 8 will mark two full weeks in Brazil.
“When I trained yesterday, some of the Chinese divers and the divers in our group were saying how cold it was,” Boudia said. “And the Americans divers were like, are you kidding? You should have been here a week ago when the water was a little bit colder, it was a little bit colder outside.”
The team also has a good mix of accomplished and first-time Olympians, providing both stamina and experience. Johnston, Boudia and Kristian Ipsen, all of whom medaled in London, make up the veteran contingent on the team. Kassidy Cook, Amy Cozad, Sam Dorman, Michael Hixon, Steele Johnson, Jessica Parratto and Katrina Young are the newcomers.
“At the pool, you see our team train, and even the Chinese turn their heads, and they’re dominant in our sport,” said Boudia. “There’s so much young talent I think all three of us are excited to lead this team well.”
Ipsen added that despite their age, the younger athletes are great competitors and perform at high levels in high-pressure settings, such as the World Cup event earlier in the year, where the U.S. needed to qualify most of its Olympic quota spots.
“Everybody really stepped up to the challenge; everybody under extreme amounts of pressure, under crazy weather conditions did really, really well,” he said of the event. “So kind of taking that energy and going into this, we have a lot of good things going on for us.”
Johnston said it’s fun to see how the rookies react to the new atmosphere they’re experiencing.
“There’s this contagious energy, especially with so many first-time Olympians. Walking into the (Olympic team) processing and their eyes are just…huge,” she said.
Boudia said he, along with Ipsen and Johnston, can help the others manage their emotions, especially the excitement and nerves, and prepare them for every aspect of the competition. Boudia’s new book, “Greater Than Gold: From Olympic Heartbreak to Ultimate Redemption,” touches on just that.
“I think a lot of times the media, people back in America, don’t see the after-effects of what the Olympics do to athletes,” he said, mentioning the “Olympic blues” as one such unique issue Olympians face.
All three of the veterans are encouraging the rookies to go to the Opening Ceremony and take in the novelty of the Games.
“Someone like Steele probably needs to get out a lot of energy,” Ipsen said, laughing, adding that the younger athletes will be able to handle the long hours on their feet and the late night.
He said the 20-year-old Johnson walked the entirety of the Great Wall of China when he visited for a World Series meet this year and dove perfectly in practice the next day.
The Perfect 10’s first chance to live up to its name comes Monday evening, with Boudia and Johnson competing in the men’s 10-meter synchronized competition.
Rebecca Harris, of the Sports Capital Journalism Program, is a graduate student at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis.