In addition, there was the increasingly compressed nervous pressure on the favored competitors at the Aquatics Centre, most especially on a dominant world champion from China, Qiu Bo, and a British marquee star, Tom Daley. As the competition came down to one last dive, Boudia, a brush-haired, hazel-eyed 23-year-old Purdue student, controlled his mind best and crafted the winning performance, with a wheeling back 21
2 somersaults and 21
2 twists that got the highest score of the night.
Boudia didn’t know it at the time — “Once I went into the water, I didn’t know where I was placed,” he said — but his score of 102.6 was enough to put him ahead of Daley, who had taken just a fractional lead after the fifth round. And it held up even when Qiu, the seemingly unbeatable world champion, performed a somersaulting, twisting last plunge that earned a 100.8.
Boudia finished with 568.65 points, ahead of Qiu’s silver medal total of 566.85 and Daley’s bronze total of 556.95, to become the first American man to win a 10-meter platform gold since Greg Louganis in 1988. “To think 10 years ago I was petrified to jump off a 10-meter platform, and now I’m Olympic champion, it’s crazy,” Boudia said.
Here’s how you conquer fear: You take the thing that scares you most, and you draw it over and over. As an 11-year-old, the Noblesville, Ind., resident was so frightened of heights he didn’t even like the lower platforms. But a gymnastics coach told him to practice drawing dives, tumbling maneuvers from pinnacles. So every day he drew.
“I was sitting in school and not supposed to be doing that, but I drew every single movement, fifty times,” he said. “And I conquered it.”
Boudia overcame his aversion to heights successfully enough to make the 2008 USA team and compete in Beijing, where he finished 10th. But he still wasn’t comfortable with the platform or with his response to pressure.
“I came to the point where I had to decide what I wanted to be, and I wanted to be an Olympian,” he said. “And after Beijing I decided that what I wanted was this.”
Boudia, Daley and Qiu traded leads throughout the half-dozen rounds. Boudia led after the first dive and the fourth, but Daley seized the lead after the fifth, to piercing shrieks. There were Union Jacks hanging from every available railing for Daley, an 18-year-old electrician’s son from Plymouth who had to deal with almost unbearable pressure.