INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — David Boudia stood on the pool deck at the Indiana University Natatorium content with his performance at USA Diving’s Winter Nationals.
He didn’t need three perfect 10s to prove he’s still the best American in the sport or another national championship to illustrate he’s on top of his game starting another crucial year.
Instead, the 26-year-old defending Olympic champion has learned there are more important things in life than simply impressing judges and having shiny, new medals draped around his neck. So as Boudia embarks on his third, and perhaps final Olympics quest, he’s focused on bigger issues such as professional satisfaction and family security.
“I accomplished a huge goal [in 2012] and that’s still the goal in 2016,” Boudia said after winning his 20th national title in December. “But I’ve put that up on a shelf. This is my job now.”
In the pool, not much has changed.
Boudia is likely to be the most experienced diver on this year’s U.S. men’s team, and he’s still the Americans’ best chance to again break up the Chinese dynasty. At the 2012 London Games, the Chinese took gold in both synchro events and silver in both individual events. This year, they’ll try to reclaim gold in the springboard after a streak of four straight Olympic golds ended in 2012, and reigning World champ Qiu Bo will try to dethrone Boudia in Rio.
Since London, Boudia’s life is completely different.
Two months after becoming the first American male diver to win Olympic gold in two decades, he married his girlfriend, Sonnie Brand. In September 2014, they welcomed their first child, Dakoda.
Along the way, Boudia picked up endorsement deals, served as a judge on Greg Louganis‘ reality television show “Splash” and teamed with a new partner, Purdue’s Steele Johnson, in platform synchro.
Yet even as some tried to turn Boudia into a budding celebrity, his small-town charm and down-to-earth personality never allowed him to be anything more than grounded and motivated.
“He really has a different perspective going into ’16,” Johnson said. “He’s not trying to please himself. He can see when I start to dive for myself and when he sees that, he pushes me the other way.”
Boudia certainly has not lost his passion or penchant for excellence.
He still wants to become the first American male since Louganis in 1988 and the fourth American in history to defend his gold medal in the platform. He’d also like to become to be the first U.S. man to earn a second medal in platform synchro after taking bronze with Nick McCrory in 2012.
The results since then have been frustrating.
He earned bronze at the diving world series event in Dubai in 2014 and individual silvers on platform at the 2013 and 2015 World Championships. For Boudia, that wasn’t good enough.
“A silver is like a thorn in the side,” Boudia said.
Even for a man who has one of the most impressive resumes in diving history.
In addition to winning two Olympic medals, the Purdue alum owns six NCAA titles, was named the nation’s best college diver in 2009 and 2010 and the Big Ten’s best overall athlete in 2011. He once medaled in 10 consecutive international competitions in platform synchro and was recently named USA Diving’s Athlete of the Year for the sixth straight year and seventh time overall, both American records.
He’s even considered expanding his normal repertoire to include the springboard.
But those closest to Boudia do see a difference in his Olympic prep work this time.
“He’s at his best when he doesn’t focus on outcomes or medals or placements,” his wife said. “His priorities are different now. He’s supporting us with his abilities, and I think he’s going to let it (his career) ride as long as it goes.”
There have been other changes, too.
Sonnie, who once traveled regularly around the world with him, has scaled back her trips. Neither she nor Dakoda is expected to attend this month’s World Cup (beginning Friday on NBC Sports Live Extra), where Boudia and Johnson will try to lock up an Olympic qualifying spot for the Americans. It’s being held in the same Rio venue as the Olympics starting Friday.
After acknowledging there was a time Boudia felt his sole motivation to achieve goals was for himself, experience has taught him the most precious moments are not defined by others.
“It’s easy to get ahead of ourselves for Olympic games, and with that in mind, I think we’re right where we need to be,” Boudia said. “But now I have to be working hard for my family. Four years ago, I was working for myself.”