Diver’s dreams still alive

You name it, and Johnson County has produced it.

NFL football players, Major League Baseball players, NBA champion basketball players, PGA Tour pros, legendary drag racers … the list is long and impressive.

Yet not entirely complete.

Missing is an Olympian. The county has yet to boast one of those.

But in four years, it might.

Zach Cooper, a diving prodigy from Greenwood, spent the better part of last week competing in the U.S. Olympic Diving Trials in Indianapolis. He didn’t qualify for the Rio Games but positioned himself for a legit shot at Tokyo in 2020.

Cooper is only 18. Although he didn’t make Team USA, he acquitted himself well in an elite field and will be a highly experienced 22-year-old in 2020.

As he correctly stated after Sunday’s 10-meter platform finals, Olympic Trials experience will be invaluable four years from today.

“I knew I was going to gain a lot of experience when I came here,” Cooper said. “But I was determined to see how far I could get.”

In light of the competition level, in a field that began with 124 divers, he got pretty far.

Cooper competed in synchronized 10-meter platform and individual 10-meter platform. He made the finals of both events.

In synchronized diving, Cooper finished third with partner Max Showalter of Purdue. That was significant, because the top two duos qualified for the Summer Games.

His individual platform results were less dazzling but still encouraging.

Cooper was in fourth place heading into Sunday’s finals. By his own admission, he “could have done a lot better,” but a seventh-place finish out of 12 divers was hardly an embarrassment.

For a young diver navigating his way through his first Olympic Trials, one that included past Olympic gold medalists, his showing validated that he belonged.

More importantly, it planted seeds for future success.

Cooper, after all, did more than dive at the trials. He watched, learned and listened.

He made special note of how Olympic veteran David Boudia, who will represent Team USA in individual and synchronized platform, comported himself throughout the trials.

Boudia won gold and bronze medals at the 2012 London Games. He’d been through the pressures of not only the trials but of the Olympics.

Not surprisingly, Boudia handled trials week with the cool calm of someone who’d been through it before.

Four years from now, Cooper plans to handle it the same way.

He’s always had the skills. Now, he has the experience.

With a successful pairing of the two, maybe, just maybe, Cooper will become the county’s first Olympian.

He certainly plans to try.

“I need to focus on my dives a little more and make sure nothing distracts me whatsoever,” Cooper said. “Just work as hard as I can to catch up to the big guys.”

Rick Morwick is sports editor of the Daily Journal. He can be reached at rmorwick@dailyjournal.net or 317-736-2715.