Kovacevic: A dive like no other for Krug

| Sunday, Aug. 5, 2012, 3:55 p.m.

LONDON — What I'll never understand, not years from now, was how Cassidy Krug held it together.

This bubbly little diver from Coraopolis, the daughter of lifelong diving parents at Pitt, this 27-year-old competing in her first and surely her last Olympics, had a medal within her grasp. Twelve steps to the platform, a puffed exhale, a leap and a plunge, and two decades of training would be rewarded.

Then, disaster.

Krug hit the water a moment too early, her feet entering with a cannonball noise and the kind of big splash that diving judges most loathe. The 15,000 inside the Aquatics Centre fell silent. And the score flashed on the big board seconds later to reflect it all.

TOTAL: 55.5

Lowest of Krug's three-day tournament.

Lowest of anyone in this Olympic 3-meter springboard final.

Lowest point any athlete could imagine.

Krug sank from a nearly certain bronze all the way to seventh place. And this in an event where bronze was the only realistic prize, with China's brilliant Wu Minxia running off with gold and He Zi taking silver.

"I'd set a goal coming into this that I wanted to do my dives like I knew I could do them," Krug would say minutes later. "For the first four dives, I did that. And for that last one, I wanted to hit that dive so badly."

How badly is part of what makes this finish so tough to take.

Krug is an 11-time national champion, but she'd been thwarted at every Olympic turn. She finished eighth in the U.S. trials in 2004, then eighth again in 2008. That disappointment, coupled with bulging disks in the back, pushed her away from the pool for a year. She wasn't sure she'd dive anymore.

That changed in 2010, when Krug returned with better results than ever and culminated this summer, when she not only qualified for the Olympics but also won the U.S. trials.

This was the year that would wipe away all that the heartbreak.

And this sure looked like the day.

Krug leapfrogged Italy's Tania Cagnotto for third place after the third of five rounds. It was a slim margin of 1.65 points, but it held firm after the fourth round, too. All she'd need for the last dive was a score near her average of 71.

Maybe that was in her mind as she climbed those dozen steps. But maybe it wasn't.

"I honestly didn't know what my score was, what place I was in," Krug said. "I never do."

I had a hard time digesting that.

"No, really, no one told me anything about being in third place for the last dive until a couple minutes ago, when one of the TV reporters brought it up."

Instead, between dives, Krug went to the designated quiet room, popped in her iPod buds and listened to AWOLNation's "Sail." Same song she heard before the first four dives to "just help me focus and relax."

The dive is called the forward 2.5-somersault, 1-twist pike. If it sounds difficult, it is. Krug set her entire program to maximum difficulty to keep pace with the Chinese. At the same time, it's a dive she'd done countless times.

Including in her imagination up on the platform.

"I was visualizing it, going over it in my head, trying to get it all right," she recalled.

If it worked in her head, it didn't in the excruciating reality.

I asked Krug if she'll ever dive again.

"I don't know. I think I just need to take some time. Maybe not. I'm not really sure right now."

If she doesn't, understand this: There's a level of dedication that goes into committing all that training, all that time and energy, to one moment, one sprint, one leap, one dive. It's something that most of the athletes we follow probably can't comprehend. Lose a World Series in extra innings of Game 7, and there's always next year.

Krug made that commitment, aware of the risk and maybe even aware that a day like this could come. Still, she tried once to make the Olympics, tried again and, undeterred, unafraid of failure, finally made it.

If that isn't championship material in some eyes, surely Krug's remarkable composure afterward was. Unlike so many at these Games, she didn't storm off or pout about judges or sob uncontrollably.

No. Krug smiled.

"I would want that dive to be better. Of course I would," she said. "But I'm so glad I came back. I am. These past couple years have been amazing. These past three weeks here have been awesome. I wouldn't trade that for anything."

I had to ask upon watching that smile still there, still hard at work: How was she doing it?

"I am sad," she finally conceded, a tear streaming down the right cheek and her lip trembling. "A little bit."

We Pittsburghers pick each other up. Krug has a Twitter account — @CassidyKrug — and I'll bet she'd welcome a few words from back home right about now.

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