Gophers diver’s medal raises U.S. diving profile

Kelci Bryant and her partner Abby Johnston won silver.

Bryant prepares for practice in the hot tub July 2 at the University Aquatic center. Bryant, who took the last two semesters off from academics and the team to prepare for the Olympics, has three semesters left to complete her communication studies degree.

Mark Vancleave, File Photo

Bryant prepares for practice in the hot tub July 2 at the University Aquatic center. Bryant, who took the last two semesters off from academics and the team to prepare for the Olympics, has three semesters left to complete her communication studies degree.

by Megan Ryan

Gophers diver Kelci Bryant’s career has mirrored the frustration of a U.S. diving team that hadn’t won a gold medal in more than a decade.

Well, at least until the 2012 Olympics.

Bryant and her new partner Abby Johnston won the silver medal in the synchronized 3-meter springboard Sunday in London — the first-ever synchronized diving medal for the U.S. since the event made its Olympic debut in 2000.

It was also the first U.S. medal in any diving event in the last 12 years. Laura Wilkinson was the last to make the podium when she won platform gold at the 2000 Sydney Olympics.

At the Beijing Olympics in 2008, Bryant and her then synchronized 3-meter springboard partner Ariel Rittenhouse finished fourth.

“Our curse is out of the way,” Bryant told the Associated Press.

Bryant and Johnston scored 321.9 points and never fell out of a podium place in their five dives. Wu Minxia and He Zi continued China’s diving dominance with a gold medal and 346.2 points. Canada’s Jennifer Abel and Emilie Heymans won the bronze with 316.8 points.

“I have all the faith in the world when I get up on that board Kelci is going to hit her dive, and I’m pretty sure she thinks I’m going to hit mine,” Johnston said, according to the Associated Press.

Heading into the Olympics, the pair wasn’t a favorite to make it to the podium. However, Bryant said she never doubted her capabilities to earn a medal.

“Abby and I just kicked it off with this event, and I think the rest of the team is going to come through,” Bryant said, according to the Associated Press. “After 2008, all of us were really close, and we needed to fine-tune our training.”

Bryant’s predication is true so far. In Monday’s men’s synchronized 10-meter platform, Americans David Boudia and Nick McCrory won the bronze medal behind gold medalists China and silver medalists Mexico.

“They are young; they have energy and also have experience,” Minnesota’s head diving coach and Bryant’s personal coach Wenbo Chen told the Minnesota Daily in July about the U.S. diving team. “I can see this time we probably have a chance [to win] maybe two or three medals.”

Bryant took the last year off from collegiate competition to focus on the Olympics, and she said she would not return to the team this year because of an upcoming shoulder surgery. But Gophers head swimming and diving coach Kelly Kremer said Bryant still represents the University.

“[I’m] so proud of Kelci and Wenbo and Abby,” Kremer said. “We’ve been in a drought in U.S.A. Diving … so for one of our Gophers to be a part of that effort and silver no less … It’s exciting both for them and for U.S.A. Diving and certainly for the University of Minnesota.”

Bryant said she plans to end her diving career on her Olympic silver medal. But a comeback isn’t completely out of the question.

“I definitely think it’s time for me to throw in the towel for a little while and get my body healthy. I need to finish school,” Bryant told the Daily in July. “I have some other things I need to take care of, but I guess you never know.”

 –The Associated Press contributed to this report.