David Boudia prepares for world diving championships in a new role

David Boudia

Last June 13, David Boudia drove home from the Olympic diving trials in Toothless, the name given to his Toyota Tundra by his oldest daughter, Koda, and replayed in his mind how he missed the team for Tokyo by three tenths of a percentage point.

When he arrived, his second daughter, Mila, ran up to the truck. She had two questions for dad.

“She asked me if I’ve ever caught fireflies, and if I wanted to catch fireflies with her,” Boudia said. “I just started to tear up.”

That interaction is what Boudia thought of first when asked to share any words he remembered after he placed third at trials, where the top two made the team. After 18 dives, Boudia had 1,314.95 points. He was 4.45 points shy of second place, the margin separating them being 0.3 percent.

“Yeah, that sucked a lot,” Boudia, a four-time medalist, said of missing an Olympics for the first time since he was 15 years old in 2004, “but it is sweet to have that kind of welcome home.

“Just putting everything in perspective.”

On that day, there was reason to wonder if Boudia had dived competitively for the last time. He was 32 years old. Will be 35 come the 2024 Paris Games, two years older than the oldest U.S. Olympic diver in history, according to Olympedia.org.

Boudia hasn’t competed since then and doesn’t know if he will again.

“Right now, I’m just enjoying what I’m doing,” he said.

Since July 1, less than three weeks after that trials heartbreak, he has been an assistant diving coach at his alma mater, Purdue, under his longtime coach, Adam Soldati. Boudia plans to go to the world championships in June in that role.

It was nine years ago that Michael Phelps attended his first world championships as a non-competitor and, partially sparked by what he felt on site, soon after unretired. Boudia isn’t preparing to be swayed one way or another in Budapest this summer.

“We’re content,” said Boudia, whose wife, Sonnie, gave birth to their fourth child and third daughter, Parker, in January. “We love where we live. I love what I do in the pool right now. So we’re taking it one stride at a time and seeing what the future holds.”

Boudia, who won the 2012 Olympic platform title with an exquisite final dive, took a year off after silver and bronze medals in 2016. He dabbled in real estate while he took time to decide whether to return. Ultimately, he came back in part because he missed the relationships forged with the diving community and at the pool.

“I don’t want to be 35, 40 years old and say, what if I would have given it another shot?” he said in 2017. “Kind of too late at that point.”

The last Olympic cycle was arduous even before the one-year Olympic postponement. His comeback was delayed by a concussion after he essentially belly-flopped on a crashed dive off the 10-meter platform. He ended up switching to the more forgiving three-meter springboard, but the same passion wasn’t there.

Then, his synchronized diving partner Steele Johnson, who had struggled with injuries, withdrew during the Olympic trials with a foot problem, ruling them out of Olympic qualification in that event. Five days later, Boudia went from first place after 15 rounds of the individual event to third place after the the 18th and final round.

He watched the Tokyo Games from home.

“The hardest thing was that in between Olympic trials and the Olympics because it was a position I hadn’t really been in,” he said. “Once the Summer Games are over and Closing Ceremonies happened, it was kind of like a good closure to that quad.”

For so long, Boudia, the lone U.S. diver to win a gold medal in the last two decades, dismissed the thought of ever becoming a coach.

“I was like, well, if I won the Olympic Games, I had success, there’s pride in it,” he reasoned. “Like I should go do bigger and better things and this high-achieving career.”

He had an epiphany about a year before Tokyo.

“A reality check,” he said. “Why can’t coaching be a career where you can still have a lot of major goals?”

If Boudia isn’t diving himself, he loves still being immersed in the sport. The joy in aiding somebody through a frustrating skill. The challenge in pinpointing and communicating to a pupil a specific flaw in a dive.

“Helping athletes who have those end goals that you’ve been able to accomplish, help them achieve that,” he said. “I’m really glad that I got some sense knocked into me and decided to jump into coaching.”

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IOC looks for ways Russian athletes ‘who do not support war’ could compete as neutrals

Thomas Bach

GENEVA (AP) — Russian athletes who do not endorse their country’s war in Ukraine could be accepted back into international sports, competing under a neutral flag, IOC president Thomas Bach said in an interview published Friday.

“It’s about having athletes with a Russian passport who do not support the war back in competition,” Bach told Italian daily Corriere della Sera, adding, “We have to think about the future.”

Most sports followed IOC advice in February and banned Russian teams and athletes from their events within days of the country’s military invasion of Ukraine.

With Russians starting to miss events that feed into qualifying for the 2024 Paris Olympics, an exile extending into next year could effectively become a wider ban from those Games.

In an interview in Rome, Bach hinted at IOC thinking after recent rounds of calls with Olympic stakeholders asked for views on Russia’s pathway back from pariah status.

“To be clear, it is not about necessarily having Russia back,” he said. “On the other hand — and here comes our dilemma — this war has not been started by the Russian athletes.”

Bach did not suggest how athletes could express opposition to the war when dissent and criticism of the Russian military risks jail sentences of several years.

Some Russian athletes publicly supported the war in March and are serving bans imposed by their sport’s governing body.

Olympic gold medalist swimmer Yevgeny Rylov appeared at a pro-war rally attended by Vladimir Putin in Moscow. Gymnast Ivan Kuliak displayed a pro-military “Z” symbol on his uniform at an international event.

Russian former international athletes are being called up for military service in the current mobilization, according to media reports. They include former heavyweight boxing champion Nikolai Valuev and soccer player Diniyar Bilyaletdinov.

Russians have continued to compete during the war as individuals in tennis and cycling, without national symbols such as flags and anthems, even when teams have been banned.

Bach told Corriere della Sera it was the IOC’s mission to be politically neutral and “to have the Olympic Games, and to have sport in general, as something that still unifies people and humanity.”

“For all these reasons, we are in a real dilemma at this moment with regard to the Russian invasion in Ukraine,” he suggested. “We also have to see, and to study, to monitor, how and when we can come back to accomplish our mission to have everybody back again, under which format whatsoever.”

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How did U.S. women’s basketball replace its legends? It starts with Alyssa Thomas.

Alyssa Thomas

If this FIBA World Cup marks the beginning of a new era of U.S. women’s basketball, it is notable, if not remarkable, that no player has been more visible than Alyssa Thomas.

Thomas is making her global championship debut in Sydney. She is the only woman on the team in her 30s. Rarely, if ever, has a player who waited this long to put on a U.S. uniform made such an impact out of the gate. Certainly not since the last major tournament in Australia, when 30-year-old Yolanda Griffith starred at the 2000 Olympics.

Over the last week, Thomas leads the U.S. in minutes played and is one of two players to start all seven games along with Breanna Stewart, the Tokyo Olympic MVP. She ranks fourth on the team in scoring (10.6 points per game), is tied for second in rebounding (6.7), second in assists (4.6) and first in steals (2.7).

The Americans, with their new breakthrough power forward, face China in Saturday’s final, seeking a fourth consecutive world title and 60th consecutive victory between Olympic and world championship play dating to 2006.

“She takes a lot of pressure off of us,” two-time WNBA MVP A’ja Wilson said after Thomas had 13 points, 14 rebounds and seven assists in a quarterfinal win over Serbia. “I think she’s the glue of this team, the X-factor of this team, because that’s her game and that’s her style.”

Thomas earned the nickname “Baby Bron Bron” at the University of Maryland for her LeBron James-like play. USA Basketball took notice in 2013, when she was one of six collegians named to a 33-player national team training camp.

But that participation was the last of Thomas’ bullet points on her USA Basketball bio for another nine years, until she was named to the FIBA World Cup qualifying team last February.

Thomas had to wait her turn.

The U.S. was loaded in the frontcourt in the 2010s with more established players — Candace ParkerTina CharlesSylvia FowlesBrittney GrinerElena Delle Donne — and then Stewart and Wilson came along, becoming arguably the two most valuable Americans in the last Olympic cycle.

Thomas produced, to that point, the best WNBA season of her career in 2020, but tore an Achilles playing overseas in January 2021, ruling out any chance of making the Tokyo Olympic team. (Thomas was not in the 36-player national team pool at the time of her injury.)

The combination of players’ absences this year — Charles, after three Olympic golds, ceded to younger players, Fowles retired and Griner is being detained in Russia — and Cheryl Reeve becoming head coach created an opportunity.

Thomas seized it, leading the Connecticut Sun to the WNBA Finals, where she recorded triple-doubles in the last two games of a series loss to the Las Vegas Aces. Then she boarded a plane to Sydney for her first major international experience and has similarly flourished.

Jennifer Rizzotti, part of the USA Basketball selection committee, said the 6-foot-2 Thomas combines the movement of Lindsay Whalen, the passing of Parker and the physicality of Rebekkah Brunson. She plays with labrum tears in each shoulder. There’s no single player like her.

“There’s definitely some post players that have that point forward mentality, but not quite with the guard skills that Alyssa has,” Rizzotti said. “I don’t see anybody, including guards, that can do what she does in the open court. Then you talk about how disruptive she is defensively and her ability to guard one through five. A’ja can guard one through five, Stewie can guard one through five, but nobody’s as disruptive as Alyssa is. On the perimeter and off the ball.”

Thomas also fit what Reeve, who succeeded Dawn Staley as head coach, was looking for in retooling the roster following the retirement of Sue Bird and possible end of Diana Taurasi‘s national team career at age 40.

“[Reeve] made it clear that she was hoping with the guard turnover that we would be able to play faster, more athletically, more possessions in the game,” Rizzotti said. “And therefore, she wanted to have post players that could push tempo, that could facilitate and kind of fit in with a ball-handling, passing mentality from the trail spot.”

Still, Thomas did not expect to be putting on a USA jersey this year. “Shocked” is the word USA Basketball chose to describe her reaction to making this team.

“It was kind of a surprise,” she said, according to USA Basketball. “I had just really taken my name out of it.”

Rizzotti said Thomas is an example — a very successful one, it turns out — of an asset in the eyes of the selection committee: patience.

“I think a lot of players feel like if they don’t make the USA national team right away, it’s never going to happen,” she said. “You get the comments like, oh, it’s political, or they keep inviting the same guys back. And it’s not true.”

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