London • Stanford diver Kristian Ipsen arrived at the London Games feeling the gnawing pressure of history. As America’s next great competitor it was up to Ipsen, 19, to help four-time Olympian Troy Dumais finally win a medal.
The circumstances weighed heavily Wednesday as Ipsen headed into the 3-meter synchronized springboard event at the Aquatics Centre, where the Americans won a bronze medal.
Qin Kai successfully defended his 2008 Olympic title with Luo Yutong as China won its fourth consecutive diving title in London. Russia’s Ilya Zakharov and Evgeny Kuznetsov held off Ipsen and Dumais for the silver.
But U.S. coaches were giddy to earn the second medal of the London Games. On Monday, David Boudia and Nick McCrory were third in the 10-meter platform for the first Olympic diving medal for the U.S. men in 16 years.
Medal number two came after a heartfelt discussion over a lunch of chicken and lettuce. Ipsen admitted to Dumais he felt tremendous responsibility to help him fulfill his dream after years of toil.
Don’t think about the medal, Dumais, 32, said.
“There’s one thing I want you to do for me,” he told his young partner. “Do not look at the scoreboard.”
Ipsen, a Clayton native and De La Salle High graduate, left the scoreboard counting to Stanford’s Rick Schavone, who after 34 years was coaching in his first Olympics.
The pair opened poorly, posting the seventh-best score on the first required dive. “I was a little concerned,” Schavone said.
He didn’t say anything to Ipsen. Instead he just gestured for him to calm down. That’s all Ipsen needed. He knew he rushed the opening of six dives. Now it was time to be more precise.
Their second dive put them in contention. The duo crept up the standings when they approached their dreaded fourth dive, a reverse 2 ½ summersault with 1 ½ twists.
The Californians had struggled with executing it cleanly at the 2011 World Championships in Shanghai. It cost Ipsen and Dumais a medal when they fell from second to fourth on the final rotation.
“It is a blind entry and they have been struggling with it,” Schavone said.
Not on the world’s biggest stage. They got the best score of the round — yes, even ahead of the vaunted Chinese.
Dumais, the leader of America’s first family of diving, did what he could to alleviate the pressure in Ipsen’s Olympic debut. He told Ipsen not to worry about whether he got an elusive medal. After each round Dumais inquired, “Are you having fun?”
Ipsen, who usually spends his summers working in the family’s restaurants, Skipolini’s Pizza, was having a ball.
They tiptoed along the springboard like an orchestrated dance. Then they exploded into the air as if shot from a cannon.
“I didn’t push anything,” said Dumais, who is from Ventura. “I just did what I was capable of doing.”
So did Ipsen, the NCAA 3-meter springboard champion as a freshman last season. Ipsen failed to qualify in the individual 3-meter springboard at the U.S. trials in June when Dumais edged him out on the final dive.
It proved to be a crushing blow. Ipsen threw everything he had into improving the coordination and timing with the man who took his spot. Ipsen wanted to win the medal for Dumais perhaps even more than for himself.
“They’re both chameleons — they adapt to each other,” said Texas coach Matt Scroggin, a 1992 Olympian.
After they completed the final rotation the Stanford diver persuaded Dumais to finally watch the scoreboard. They knew only a Ukrainian team had a realistic chance of overtaking them.
Dumais didn’t want to do it. “You’re coming out and watching it with me,” Ipsen demanded.
Once the Ukrainians hit the water Ipsen knew they had it.
A well-deserved medal for Dumais.