MONTREAL – Thomas Finchum is barely visible atop the towering platform at the World Swimming Championships.
At 15, the youngest member of the U.S. diving team is 5-foot-3 and a scant 92 pounds. He appears as a small dot against the blue sky before hurtling himself off the 10-meter platform.
“It’s pretty fun,” he said in a voice not yet deepened by puberty. “There’s been times I’ve been scared, but there’s always going to be fear.”
At least there isn’t disappointment.
Finchum had that feeling last year when he was left off the Olympic team despite finishing second in the platform at the U.S. trials.
Typically, the second-place finisher made the team, but U.S. Diving changed its selection process, and he was left at home.
“I wished I was there,” he said. “But I really wasn’t expecting to make the team.”
Finchum watched the Olympic diving on television “just because it’s fun.”
What he saw bummed him out – the Americans failed to win any medals for the first time in 92 years.
“It was upsetting,” he said. “It makes you want to work harder and get better because you want to see your country do better.”
That’s his goal in Montreal.
The United States had won three medals in seven events through Friday night, highlighted by a gold for Laura Wilkinson on the platform.
Wilkinson, the 2000 Olympic gold medalist, is impressed with Finchum.
“He’s got a lot of potential,” she said. “He’s still very young. This is going to be a great experience for him.”
Finchum will compete on the platform today.
“I’m just trying to have fun and do as good as I can,” he said. “I feel like there’s no pressure. However I end up, I’ll be happy, I hope.”
The platform is diving’s most punishing event. Many competitors quit by 25 because hitting the water at such high speeds takes a toll on their bodies.
And if they botch a dive, a hard landing – even in water – hurts.
Finchum has been injury-free since he began diving as a 6-year-old, introduced to the sport by his grandmother.
The 1-inch-long scar under his chin came from falling, not diving, when he was younger. “I had to have stitches five times,” he said, smiling.
Finchum recently completed his freshman year at Lutheran High in Indianapolis, where his dad is the school’s athletic director.
He isn’t sure if he wants to dive in college, but he’s got his sights on qualifying for the 2008 Beijing Olympics at the ripe old age of 18.
“That’s the ultimate goal,” he said.
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