Ten meters above the water, Abigail Knapton took a deep breath.
In front of her was a chance to advance to the platform finals at the U.S. Olympic Diving Trials. She had one semifinal dive left.
Knapton launched herself off the board, performed a 3½ somersault, extended her arms, and made a clean cut into the water. So impressive, the judges awarded Knapton an 84.15 — the best mark of any diver competing in the semifinals — and it sealed her ticket to the final round.
"I knew kind of when I hit the water that I had sunk it in, so that was such a great feeling, especially after starting out pretty rough in the competition," Knapton said Thursday afternoon from Indianapolis. "I really needed that one."
Knapton, who grew up with a different Olympic dream, is having the time of her life this week at the trials. All of her hard work at Nebraska, and prior at Omaha Marian, has culminated in this — two chances to make the U.S. Olympic team.
Her first event this week was 3-meter springboard on Tuesday. Going in, Knapton wanted to use her 3-meter program to shake out the jitters, put herself in a better mental state for platform.
Turns out, Knapton was already in prime performance mode. She scored a 559.30 to finish sixth among 18 divers to earn a spot in Saturday's championship round.
"That one was kind of a nice surprise," said Knapton, who hadn't competed in a meet setting since the NCAAs in March.
It also set the stage for a strong platform program. By competing a day earlier, Knapton was able to establish a routine and get a feel for the competition flow.
She scored a 285.50 to advance out of platform quarterfinals, and then capped her day with a 575.50 to finish sixth ahead of Sunday's final round.
Knapton was already enjoying her experience at her first Olympic Trials. Now it will be extended into the weekend on national TV (NBC).
"It has been just mind-blowing," the Omaha Marian graduate said. "I am so grateful to be having this opportunity right now and just being here with all the top divers in the country is so much fun.
"It's an indescribable atmosphere here. I'm just trying to soak it in."
NBC will show the 3-meter springboard finals at 3:50 p.m. Saturday. The platform finals will take place in prime time (8 p.m.) Sunday.
And even though she's a few states away, Knapton is feeling the good vibes from back home.
"My Facebook is blowing up," she said. "It's fun to check in after each event and see all the people that are watching and supporting me. It's really humbling and I'm so blessed with all the support."
When Knapton was little, she had Olympic dreams, but in a different sport. For 11 years, she competed in gymnastics.
"You're looking up to people like Shawn Johnson and Nastia Liukin and Jordyn Weber and all those big names," Knapton said. "When I switched over to diving, my goals kind of changed and shifted and I just wanted to get kind of good enough to be a college diver."
What followed was one of the best careers by a Husker diver. Knapton was a five-time first-team All-American, and she concluded her collegiate career with Big Ten championships in 1-meter and platform. She was named NU's female athlete of the year.
During her sophomore year, Knapton added two more dives to her platform program to become eligible to compete in events such as the Olympic Trials, and suddenly her goals got bigger and bigger.
The Olympic dream was back.
"Eventually I wanted to make it to the Olympic Trials," Knapton said. "Being here right now has been such a huge accomplishment for me, but I know I have a lot more in me."
Yes, Knapton thinks she can improve on her scores of 559.30 (3-meter) and 575.50 (platform). The top two finishers in each diving event will qualify for the Summer Games in Tokyo.
Knapton will be diving on the biggest stage of her life this weekend. It won't change her approach. The plan, she says, is to have fun and go in relaxed. The Omaha kid in her who grew up watching the Olympics has nothing to lose.
"I want to leave it all out there," said Knapton, who may also pursue a trials run in 2024. "I don't want to have any regrets that I held back or was nervous or timid. I really just want to show people that I can perform and do the dives like I know how to do them.
"Just wanting to hit those dives and see where I land."
Reach Clark Grell at 402-473-2639 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter at @LJSSportsGrell.
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