Andrew Holleran / Photo editor
About a year ago, former Ohio State diver Katie Bell had a friend who wanted to watch her compete among the world’s elite and buy tickets to the 2012 Summer Olympics.
At the time, the purchase seemed optimistic at best, with Bell still months away from even getting the chance to qualify for the London Games.
On June 24, though, at the United States Olympic Diving Trials in Federal Way, Wash., Bell made her friend’s premature purchase worth the while after finishing second in the 10-meter platform competition-securing one of two Olympic berths in the event.
For Bell, who has dreamed of being a member of the U.S. Olympic team since she could walk, the fact that she has reached her lifetime goal still hasn’t totally hit her.
“I’m still in shock,” said Bell, who will compete with the U.S. Diving team Aug. 8 and Aug. 9 in London. “People keep asking me if it feels real and how I’m feeling, and I don’t know. I don’t think it’s going to feel real until I’m at the Games and in the Village and at the pool with USA behind me.”
An All-American diver at OSU, Bell has been telling her family and friends that she would be an Olympian since a young age.
“We’ve been talking about it since she was six or seven years old, about going to the Olympics, we really have,” said Bell’s father, Chris Bell. “It’s never been a doubt.”
The only thing up in the air was what sport Bell wanted to compete in. Diving was not her first choice.
She started her athletic career as a gymnast. A Clintonville native, Bell watched the U.S. women’s gymnastics team, dubbed the “Magnificent Seven,” at the 1996 Games in Atlanta. Filled with many teenage sensations, they were the first U.S. gymnastics team to win a gold medal.
“Watching (former Olympians) Kerri Strug and Dominique Moceanu and their stories (inspired me),” Bell said. “I had every possible book about them, and I just wanted to be like them.”
By the age of five, Bell was practicing gymnastics before and after school. A few years later, she started to dive during the summer at Olympic Swim Club in Columbus, but only as a backup option.
“I started (diving) when I was eight just because I told my Dad I wanted another chance to go to the Olympics,” Bell said. “Then, when I was 13, I ended up switching from gymnastics to diving.”
Bell’s goal, and her diving career, almost came to an end during her freshman season at OSU.
At the 2007 Big Ten Championships, Bell attempted an arm-stand triple for her second dive. She lost her position midair, knowing neither where the ceiling or the water’s location was. Bell landed flat on her stomach, collapsing a lung, separating chest cartilage and popping ribs out of place.
It took two years, according to Bell, for her to get back into diving shape-both mentally and physically. During that time, Bell thought about quitting the sport altogether. She almost transferred from OSU.
“One of my diving teammates, who was a year younger than me, the other day she said she remembered I would come in (to practice), do one or two dives and cry or get upset because it was so hard,” Bell said.
Bell’s father remembers those years as the only point in his daughter’s athletic career when he thought the hard work and dedication wasn’t worth it.
“She was hurting a lot and they still try to figure out why she’s not getting better and why she’s hurting so much. That was really hard and maybe not (worth it),” he said.
After consulting a psychologist and numerous rehab sessions with doctors at OSU, Bell came back, only to get injured again.
She tore her labrum and suffered rotator cuff damage in her shoulder at the USA Diving Winter Nationals and World Cup Team Trials at OSU in February 2010.
“It was another process back,” Bell said. “A lot of diving is mental. Coming back from all of that and getting up there and doing those dives again, there’s always a risk of getting hurt. I just learned to always think about the positives that come with it.”
Bell did not just become a better diver after the injuries; she said she also became a better person.
“I was not an open person. I didn’t have very good communication with people. After (the injuries), I learned a lot about myself, and about other people around me,” Bell said.
Like every sport, injuries are a part of diving. So are sacrifices outside of the pool, something Bell has become very accustomed to since she arrived at OSU.
“Since I came to Ohio State, (head coach) Vince Panzano always told us, ‘You are not normal. You can’t go out with all the other kids at Ohio State and get in trouble,'” Bell said. “It took me a while to figure that out in college. You kind of want to go a little crazy, but as I got older, I realized I wanted to focus all my time on diving. When I’m done, then I can hang out and have fun.”
A self-described hippie, Bell said she missed out on her family’s venture to a bluegrass music festival a few weeks ago. She had to train for the trials. Her family told her not to be upset; she could have fun after the Olympics.
In London, Bell will get the chance to make all her efforts pay off. It won’t be the first time she dons the Red, White, and Blue at the Olympic pool, though.
She, and Upper Arlington native Abby Johnston-also on the U.S Olympic team, and friends since childhood-competed at the FINA Diving World Cup in London in February.
When they dove together at the international biennial competition, Bell and Johnston made a pact that they would return to London, together, for the Olympics in the summer.
The experience the two had in February will help them when they compete in August, Bell said.
“Just seeing (the pool) and being in that environment already, I think has prepared me to be back,” she said.
When she competes for the first time as an Olympian, Bell said she will not be satisfied with just being there. The pageantry and camaraderie will be nice, but Bell said she wants more than a memory. She wants something, possibly made of gold, silver or bronze, to bring back to OSU and the United States.
“I think with all of my best dives that I’ve done, I’m competing right up there with everyone,” Bell said.
Bell is set to leave for the U.S. diving team’s Olympic camp in Maryland on July 12 before heading to England four days later on the 16th.
She said she hopes to medal so her family, the friend that bought a ticket a year in advance, and the rest of the world can watch her lifetime dream end on a high note.