SHANGHAI -- Any championship athlete knows that delivering peak performance is about achieving a state of calm excitement. That is, it's simply telling your body to do what you know it can do, because you've done it thousands of times before in practice. The trick is the "simply" part. If it really was so simple, everyone could do it. It's not, of course, and that's what separates champions from the rest of us. That's particularly the case in a sport such as diving, and all the more so in platform diving, where you throw your body into the air from a ledge 10 meters, or roughly 30 feet, up.
The moment of championship calm and grace that everyone knew David Boudia had in him finally arrived Saturday in Shanghai. He absolutely nailed the fifth of sixth dives in his program. That propelled him up the leader board, all the way up to second. But he didn't get all caught up in the moment. He thought, oh, good. Then he went out and hit his last dive, too.
David Boudia's silver turned out to be the first medal won by an American male in 25 years at the FINA world championships. No American had won on the 10-meter board since 1986, when Greg Louganis won gold and Bruce Kimball bronze.
China's Qui Bo won gold, with 585.45 points. Boudia finished with 544.25. Germany's Sascha Klein was third, with 534.5. American Nick McCrory finished sixth, with 501.65.
Louganis, in an e-mail, wrote that he had challenged Boudia last year to "leave the pack," adding, "he is now putting that belief in himself to do just that." Louganis also wrote that he was "so proud" and predicted Boudia would have "great opportunities ahead."
Overall, there were 10 gold medals up for grabs in the diving events here in Shanghai.
The Chinese won all 10.
Obviously, they dominate the sport.
Next year, at the London Olympics, they're going to win most of the medals. That's so predictable it's even now all but fact.
Nonetheless, there's opportunity. Intriguingly, the Chinese are worried. Witness this revealing comment Sunday in the English-language China Daily newspaper from Zhou Jihong, the Chinese dive team leader:
"I am really happy to achieve that sweep but I still feel worried. Our opponents have become stronger in technique. We have to toughen up mentally."
One of the reasons they are worried is that David Boudia won silver. That's legitimately fact, too.
The Americans haven't won an Olympic medal since Laura Wilkinson, on the platform in Sydney in 2000. Even so, they were in the hunt here in several disciplines -- but only Boudia, on the final day of the diving competition, broke through.
To see the arc of Boudia's career is to witness steady progression and maturity. It's not unexpected. He has been diving for a long time now. He's now 22 -- and, at Purdue, was named the 2011 Big Ten athlete of the year.
Got that, all you football studs? David Boudia is the Big Ten man of the year.
Boudia finished 23rd in 2007 on the platform at the 2007 world championships; in 2009, he finished sixth.
At the 2007 and 2009 worlds, respectively, he won bronze and silver in the synchronized 10-meter events. At the 2008 FINA World Cup, he won bronze.
He came to these 2011 worlds with his coach, Adam Soldati, mindful that the ability to compete at an occasion such as the world championships can be viewed one of two ways.
You can graft it with all kinds of artificial pressure.
Or -- both Soldati and Boudia are animated by a solid Christian faith -- you can view the worlds as a gift, a chance "to feel alive to feel awesome moments," as Soldati put it.
Soldati also likes to say that the point of diving is to hit it, not to miss it.
That fifth dive, a back 3 1/2 pike, earned Boudia 9.5s from all seven judges.
"Once the competition started," Boudia said, "I've never felt so relaxed in my entire life. Sitting with Adam, we were just joking around like we do in practice. We didn't make a big deal like this was the world championships or anything. I didn't make a big deal of anything. I took it one thing at a time. I didn't get ahead of myself. I didn't get caught up in the environment. It was cool.
"… After that fifth round, I was excited but immediately I hit that switch. I thought, I have one more dive. I thought, 'You hit that great dive but you have more to go. So let's go.' "
He followed up with a rock-steady back 2 1/2 with 2 1/2 twists. You dive to hit it, not miss it.
David Boudia has been on the international circuit since he was 15. These championships, he said, were the first when he had the perspective to look around the pool deck and see how anxious so many of his other competitors could be, and for what?
"I could see how nervous they were. I could tell when they were diving if they were being cautious. When I was in competition, even in synchro, I could see how they were nervous. I was, like, why do you need to get so nervous? It was like an epiphany. After seven years of competition on the world stage, I controlled my body and it was -- it was like amazing."
Asked if he thought that bodes well for next year, he smiled a big smile, and said with an indisputable sense of calm excitement, "Absolutely."