U diver steps closer to Olympic Trials at Senior Nationals

by Brian Stensaas

He doesn’t have the burly mass of a recently-drafted NFL rookie. His face is not scruffy and battered like that of a Hobey Baker hockey candidate. He isn’t 7-foot-1 and hoping to be picked by the NBA this June.
Instead, Minnesota diver Dan Croaston has the stereotypical short, bleach-blonde hair that so many divers do. He probably isn’t recognized around campus like other athletes, yet Croaston has a chance to compete where few others will, the Olympics.
And he can earn the chance right in his backyard with the 2000 National Indoor Diving Championships that are underway at the Aquatic Center.
Croaston has already shown he has the talent. The junior placed 13th in the tower Tuesday, missing the finals by just nine points. Last night, he took second in 1-meter competition. Former Minnesota diver P.J. Bogart took first.
After watching Croaston in the 1-meter semi-finals yesterday, Vice President of U.S. Senior Diving Dave Burgering said Dan has the skills, but he has a long way to go.
“Dan has a lot of potential,” Burgering said. “In our sport, maturity is a big thing. He is still considered a rookie. If he doesn’t let outside influences get to him and dives well, sure, he could be a dark horse and be a surprise to a lot of people.”
Today at 3 p.m., Croaston’s fortÇ, the 3-meter competition, takes center stage.
After wrapping up his second consecutive Big Ten diver of the year award, Croaston is slowly working his way to his goal of making the Olympic Trials.
“The way I see it, I’m taking small steps,” Croaston said of his progress. “I’ve improved a lot already here, I improved (at the NCAA meet), I won Big Tens again. I am just trying to stay relaxed.”
Diving among the nation’s best, at home in front of more fans than a usual, national event, relaxation isn’t as easy as it might seem.
Sure, you sleep in your own bed at night, not the hard hotel variety. You’re familiar with the boards and you are in the usual routine. But, do well here and you move on to the Olympic Trials. What could possibly be going through a diver’s mind?
“I really need to buy a new car this summer,” Croaston joked. “No, well, I just know that if I don’t qualify on the 3-meter, I’ll be looking forward to summer nationals (July 21-23). But I do want to kick it in the butt here a little.”
Minnesota diving coach KZ Li, a bronze medalist at the 1984 Olympic Games in Los Angeles, says that Croaston has the capability to make it to this year’s trials, but it’s no cake walk.
“The Olympic Trials are very tough. You’re talking about the best divers in the country,” he said. “He’s ready, but not completely ready yet. He’s definitely a bit anxious.”
In total, the top eight in each of the 3-meter and platform competitions will make the 2000 U.S. national team this week. The top 12 on each board will earn the right to compete at the Olympic Trials June 20-25 in Seattle.
Li touched on the fact that Croaston is always out to better himself. And maybe after the 13th-place finish in the tower he will have added incentive to perform well on the 3-meter today.
“Sometimes when he doesn’t dive well, he gets really frustrated. Some would quit, but he doesn’t quit, and that’s good,” Li said. “He’s sort of some kind of fighter. He wants to fight back after he doesn’t do his best.”
As all young divers try to do, Croaston is slowly making a name for himself in the U.S. diving world.
The future looks bright for him. Maybe he won’t be the next Greg Louganis, who won 10 straight indoor titles on the 3-meter from 1979-1988, but he is among the younger divers here this week. And he has a lot of diving left.
“I’m getting there, I’m catching up with the other guys,” Croaston said. “I’ve been preparing for this for a long time. It’s the last big meet ’till the end of the summer. Or, hopefully for me, the middle of the summer.”

Brian Stensaas covers swimming and diving and welcomes comments at [email protected].