Atlanta Gives U.S. Divers Big Send-Off to Rio
More than 4,000 fans turned out July 20-23 to cheer on the 2016 U.S. diving team bound for the Rio Olympics and to revive the Olympic spirit that birthed the McAuley Aquatic Center 20 years ago.
“Atlanta has been great,” said Mike Edwards, senior director for campus recreation at Georgia Tech and manager of the swimming and diving venue during the 1996 Summer Games in Atlanta. “They have just been coming out in droves for us.”
USA Diving’s 10-member Olympic team held three open practice sessions and one autograph session as a part of the weeklong send-off. The autograph sessions July 20 and 23 had lines wrapped around the building. Those sessions brought back ’96 Olympians, and the July 20 event included Greg Louganis, the only diver to sweep gold medals in platform and springboard events in back-to-back Olympics (1984, 1988).
David Pichler, who finished sixth in platform in 1996 and now lives in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, has been back to Atlanta numerous times because of his work with the real estate firm Cushman & Wakefield. He saw the facility evolve from the open-air pavilion to the closed-in building.
“It’s nice to pop back in and relive the memories,” Pichler said. “I remember the build up to that first dive in ’96: hearing the home crowd cheering for several minutes when I stepped out onto the platform. When I think about it, I still get chills.”
For Becky Ruehl Amann, who finished fourth in the 10-meter platform in 1996 and now lives in Portland, Oregon, this trip was her first since she competed in the Atlanta Games.
“It’s almost as magical as it was when I was here for the Olympic Games,” she said. “The pool was one of the things that made the biggest impression on me as an athlete.”
The athletes believe their performance was enhanced by the strong showing of fan support during the public practices and the hospitality of Georgia Tech and the sponsors.
Steve Foley, high performance director for the 2016 Olympic diving team, said this send-off was very important in bringing the athletes together as a team and helping them stay motivated during the final push in their training.
“It’s been amazing. I thought I was back at the ’96 Olympics,” said Foley, who did television commentating for Australian TV for the Atlanta Games. “The stands were just about full. You could see the divers were really buzzing from the crowd cheering them on. It was nice to get applause.”
Foley said training can be isolating, but the impact of the crowd helped fuel the divers’ desire to give their best effort each time off the board or platform.
“I came into this practice pretty tired,” said Indianapolis’ Amy Cozad, a competitor in the 10-meter platform synchronized diving event. “All that went away when the people started pouring into the stands and started cheering for us.”
As USA Diving heads to Brazil for the Summer Games, which run Aug. 5-21, USA Swimming moves into McAuley for a week of training. The one practice session open to the public will be July 30 from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. The event is free, but attendance is limited to the first 1,500 in line. The doors open at 9 a.m.
“I think it’s more than just the facility,” Edwards said. “Obviously, it’s an outstanding facility because it’s an Olympic facility, but I think it’s a lot more than that. It’s the partnerships within Atlanta. Our partners on this were the Atlanta Sports Council and Coca-Cola, and between the three of us, we’ve been able to capitalize on all of our strengths and really do a great job for United States Diving.”