Olympic diver beginning to feel home

Kelci Bryant has already claimed a national title for the Gophers.

Olympic diver beginning to feel home

Max Sanders

A transfer student-athlete in her first year at Minnesota may be the best diver in the nation. But for Kelci Bryant, even that is not good enough. Bryant is only a sophomore, but she has earned a list of accolades and accomplishments that would rival any seasoned diver. At 16, the Illinois native was the national champion on the 1-meter and 3-meter dive. The accomplishments continued with Bryant participating in diving competitions in Rome and Great Britain, and she won the 2009 National Diving Championships in the 3-meter. While those competitions are known throughout the diving community, Bryant stepped out on the mainstream stage when she competed for Team USA in the Beijing Olympics in 2008. âÄúI donâÄôt think [the Olympic experience is something] you can really describe in words. You just have to be there to experience it,âÄù Bryant said. Bryant competed with USCâÄôs Ariel Rittenhouse , and placed just outside the medals, finishing fourth overall. While Bryant enjoyed competing on the highest international stage, she said she was disappointed with her results. âÄúI think that if you are happy with anything less than a medal at the Olympic Games or first place anywhere else, than youâÄôre never going to achieve those goals,âÄù Bryant said. Bryant initially began her collegiate career at the University of Miami , the school her older sister Katie earned All-America honors as a diver. However, after one semester, the younger Bryant decided the school was not the right fit and returned to training in Indianapolis with long-time coach Wenbo Chen . âÄú[Katie] supports me no matter what I do,âÄù Bryant said. âÄúShe was OK with it; she wasnâÄôt upset or anything. EveryoneâÄôs different.âÄù Known as one of the premier diving coaches in the world, Chen was hired as MinnesotaâÄôs diving coach in April 2009, and Bryant made the decision to follow her coach north soon after. âÄúMinnesota is the top swimming [and] diving team in the conference,âÄù Chen said. âÄúI really liked working with the coaches and the community, and last year I finally had the opportunity.âÄù Chen makes his return to the Big Ten after serving as PurdueâÄôs head swimming and diving coach from 2001-05 . He also brings years of international experience to Minnesota, and although Bryant finished just outside the medals, he was impressed with how the sophomore carried herself during her Olympic debut. âÄúI think itâÄôs pretty good for the first time,âÄù Chen said. âÄúThe Olympic Games are totally different, all the cameras and all the people watching you. Maybe [she was] a little nervous, but for the first time I think [she] was pretty solid.âÄù Bryant joined the Gophers diving team this fall and has already made a lasting impact. The sophomore won the 1- and 3-meter diving events at the Big Ten Championships. She followed that up with a national title 3-meter in March at the NCAA Championships and a second-place finish in the 1-meter. âÄúReally happy,âÄù Bryant said. âÄúI think I couldâÄôve done better on 1-meter, and I was a little disappointed that I didnâÄôt get that title too. But next year IâÄôm working harder for that.âÄù Outside of the pool, Bryant initially had a hard time dealing with the frigid Minnesota winters, as many southern transplants can attest. âÄúI like the school a lot. ItâÄôs just a little cold,âÄù she said. After the purchase of a tough winter jacket, the sophomore learned to deal with the brutal Minnesota winters and helped lead the Gophers swimming and diving team to a second-place finish at the Big Ten Tournament. As for her Olympic future, both Chen and Bryant agree she will compete in the 2012 Olympics in London. This time they hope, and expect, that Bryant will be on the medal podium at the end of competition. âÄúSheâÄôs very talented and working real hard,âÄù Chen said. âÄúSheâÄôs probably No. 1, No. 2 in the nation right now. I think if she keeps working hard she should win a medal.âÄù