“It’s been a very tough year for me,” the diver said. “It’s always there in the back of your head.” When Daley failed to medal in the synchronized event, a 17-year-old in Weymouth maliciously tweeted, “You let your dad down I hope you know that.” Daley was both outraged and “devastated.”
He was also clearly nervous — so nervous in the preliminaries that he tilted sideways on a dive and only barely qualified, in 15th place. Boudia was even worse — the last qualifier of all, in 18th place. But both men steadied themselves in the semifinals and climbed through the standings, Boudia into third place and Daley fourth.
“Diving is 60 percent or 70 percent mental and the rest is physical,” Boudia said after the semis. “If you can get your brain in line, it will be fine.
“There is a lot of tension. There is a lot of nerves. There is pressure. . . . If you ask all 12 divers whether they get nervous, 100 percent will say yes.”
Boudia stood up to the pressure with a relentless focus. It was needed, because he was the unlucky diver who had to go after Daley on the start list. Yet Boudia was so zeroed in on each dive that he was never bothered by the flash photography that bedeviled Daley — causing him to request a re-dive on his first appearance on the platform — nor by the tumultuous roars. He had no idea where he stood from one round to the next, “whether I was in medal contention, let alone gold.”
On the sixth and final dive, he stood on the platform, took a deep breath and threw himself trusting into the blank air. He tumbled downward, one maneuver blending into another, and a second and a half later hit the water. When he pulled himself out of the pool, he still had no idea where he stood. But everyone else knew he had taken the lead.
“You can smile, you know,” a Canadian diver told him. When the final numbers flashed on the board, Boudia stared at them in dumb amazement.
Later, he said,“It still hasn’t sunk in that this is a gold medal and I stood on a podium and the national anthem played.”
For previous columns by Sally Jenkins, visit washingtonpost.com/jenkins.