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Kovacevic: 'I won't let 30 seconds ruin it all'

| Thursday, Dec. 20, 2012, 10:56 p.m.

Even in the context of the Steelers' fall from grace, the Pirates' fall from first place and the Penguins falling, um, off the Earth's face? … I don't believe that any of our city's athletes or athletic institutions fell farther, faster or harder in 2012 than a single sprightly little diver from Kennedy Township.

Her fall took less than three seconds, covered only three meters, and yet dwarfed all else I've covered in local sports this year.

Meet Cassidy Krug.

If you don't recognize her name, well, you probably would have, if not for what took place on the fifth of August in the west of London.

The Olympic 3-meter springboard final was essentially a battle for bronze, given the caliber of the top two divers from China. But that medal was there for Krug to take heading into her last dive.

What a story it would have been, too, for the daughter of two coaches at Pitt's Aquatic Club, for the tenacious competitor who finally made the U.S. Olympic team after two failed tries and perennial back troubles, for a 27-year-old who surely wouldn't get another chance.

All she needed was to execute one dive.

Not nail it. Just execute.

This was what I wrote from poolside that day:

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 on this final day.

Lowest point any athlete could imagine.

Krug sank from a nearly certain bronze all the way to seventh place.

I'll be honest: My heart sank, too.

This wasn't the pros. There's no wait until next year. For most Olympians, it's one and done. And this one was done in the most devastating way.

Or so I'd thought.

“I really did enjoy my Olympic experience, the whole month, everything about it,” a bubbly sounding Krug was saying over the phone from California this week. “And I'm not just saying that. I won't let 30 seconds ruin it all. I just won't.”

I was skeptical. I reminded Krug of our interview only 10 minutes after that fateful dive, one in which she kept smiling, kept a stiff upper lip … right until I asked how she was pulling that off.

Her response, regrettably, came with a tear streaming down her cheek: “I am sad. A little bit.”

She now concedes that, right after we were done, “I went into a bathroom and let it all out. All the emotion. Everything.”

How does that athlete bounce back?

How about the person?

“You know, that part's been the biggest challenge,” Krug said. “My entire life, I woke up and rolled out of bed and knew exactly what I wanted to do. I wanted to be the best in the world. It's not easy … finding a new passion.”

Not that she isn't trying. She's in California looking for ways to put her Stanford writing degree to professional use. She's also testing the waters for a TV project she can't yet discuss. And she's watching movies. And reading books. And sleeping in and eating up. She even attended four friends' weddings in three weeks.

“So many things I could never do in the past,” she said. “Like a whole new life”

Krug stayed dry, too. It wasn't until October that she tried another dive, this while helping her parents, Julian and Dorothy, coach a class at Pitt's Trees Pool.

“I got up there on the platform and … it's not like I was having flashbacks right away or anything,” she said, “but it did hit me where I was the last time I'd been up there.”

Long pause, deep breath, then the flashback.

“It's come back a lot, actually,” she said. “It's not just that it was my last dive of the event. It's that it was one of my best dives. But I wanted to go 110 percent. I wanted it to be one of the best dives I ever did. I wanted perfect entry, perfect splash … and I got ahead of myself.”

Not a good fit for diving.

“It's not like being a running back. Adrenaline doesn't help. I got out there too fast, and that was it.”

Whether Krug will compete again remains up in the air. She's officially retired, and her plan is to take at least another year off and see “where everything takes me.”

Brazil in 2016?

“Ha! Well, I don't know. I'd be 31, but I know physically I could do it. Right now I'm just excited to explore what else is out there …”

Longer pause, deeper breath, then a flash forward.

“I just can't totally get Rio out of my head. Not yet.”

That's usually the cure for a fall: Get right back up.

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