QUEIMADOS, Brazil. The 2016 Summer Olympics begin tomorrow in Rio de Janeiro, so one might be forgiven for wondering why a group of hard-core athletes is gathered at an outdoor pool and diving facility here, 68 miles away from the site of the games. “A lot of people don’t think we have a sense of urgency,” says coach Mark Wertz with an edge in his voice. “But after they finish reading that first sentence we’ll still have like 35 hours to get there.”
Wertz is putting his charges through their paces today in this city of 137,000 because he doesn’t want athletes from other nations to see them in action until the very last minute, and he watches closely as Tyler Scher, a 19-year-old from Indianapolis, climbs the ten-meter springboard for his first try of the day. “This event is going to be so competitive,” Wertz says, shaking his head. “I don’t want anybody to get the slightest advantage on us.”
As he says these last words sotto voce, Scher walks to the edge of the board, bounces, flies high in the air and then enters the water clumsily, making a splash big enough to put him out of contention in most diving competitions.
“Good work, Ty,” Wertz says as he makes a note on his ever-present clipboard. “You got a lot of volume on your splash, but we need to work on the height.”
Scher and the others assembled here this morning will represent the U.S. in the first Olympic pool-jumping competition, performing one of the five classic jumps–cannonball, can opener, preacher’s seat, suicide and “back splat”–into a pool ringed by a panel of international judges. “I coulda been a diver,” says Tony DiStafano, an earnest sixteen-year-old from West Hartford, Connecticut, “but I like to make a splash.”
Because many of the compulsory pool jumps are American creations, the U.S. team is expected to have a built-in edge when for the first time the sport advances beyond the “demonstration” stage, but Wertz is leaving nothing to chance. “I don’t buy that for a minute,” says Wertz. “The Eastern European women are the dark horse with all that hair on their upper lips.”