David Boudia was a spectator for the biggest platform diving final of the year. He considered that a competitive advantage considering the big picture, the 2016 Olympics.
“I was able to be on the outside looking into the competition,” he said. “I saw their strengths, weaknesses. I was evaluating.”
Boudia entered three of four events at the FINA World Cup in Shanghai last week. The one he missed was the platform, his 2012 Olympic gold medal event. Boudia didn’t contest it at the 2013 Winter Nationals, where individual World Cup spots were determined.
Boudia has said he’s using the “off year” — no Olympics, no World Championships — to experiment with new dives and new events.
So, Boudia spent most of his time in Shanghai climbing three meters above the pool rather than 10. He placed eighth in the 3m springboard, fourth in the synchro springboard with Sam Dorman and third in the synchro platform with Steele Johnson.
He watched the last event Sunday, the men’s platform final, where the Chinese pipeline produced another one-two finish. Yang Jian, 20, scored 543.83 points to defeat veteran Qiu Bo, who had 528.5.
Three years ago, Qiu won the World Championship and became the Olympic favorite. But Boudia knocked him off by 1.8 points in London for the first U.S. Olympic diving gold medal since 2000.
Qiu repeated as World champion with 581 points in Barcelona last year, where Boudia was a distant second with 517.4 in the final (though Boudia beat Qiu in the semis).
Boudia couldn’t have been surprised seeing Qiu and Yang star in Shanghai, given he finished behind one of them at each of his three World Series platform competitions this year.
“They’re on a whole other level than the rest of the world,” Boudia said (Yang can be unrivaled in particular, scoring a record 616.5 points at the London World Series event). “I definitely think [Yang] will probably be the favorite going into Rio. Qiu Bo is right behind him.”
Yet Boudia doesn’t consider himself an underdog. Not with that Olympic gold medal back home in Indiana.
“London  really boosted my confidence and belief that I can contend with these Chinese guys,” he said. “Diving is a world where consistency is the name of the game. Any given day a guy can miss a dive just like that, and they’re out of it totally.”
Boudia finished his season in Shanghai, and he’s left with thoughts as he takes a break for the birth of his daughter. What events does he want to try to qualify for his third Olympics in 2016?
He wants three — individual platform, synchro platform and either individual springboard or synchro springboard. He flew to Shanghai leaning toward the synchro springboard, but that eighth-place finish in the individual springboard was encouraging for Boudia, who won the Winter Nationals title in the event.
He sees room for improvement without much separation from the medal contenders.
“Going into the last round here in the World Cup, I was maybe four or five points out of third place … and I didn’t have the hardest dives,” Boudia said.
No U.S. diver has qualified for both individual Olympic events since Mark Ruiz in 2000. Before that, the last to do it was Greg Louganis, who swept the platform and springboard golds in 1984 and 1988. Nobody has won Olympic medals in both events since Russian Dmitry Sautin in 2000.
Boudia’s added event is just one of the changes for USA Diving since it won four medals in London. Five of the six women on the Olympic Team have retired, with synchro springboard silver medalist Abby Johnston the outlier.
Boudia’s Olympic synchro platform bronze medal teammate, Nick McCrory, competed internationally for the first time since the Olympics in Shanghai. Like Boudia, he focused on the springboard, finishing 12th.
It appears they won’t dive together in synchro platform leading into Rio, since Boudia has a new synchro platform partner in the 18-year-old Johnson.