Today, BuckeyeSports.com begins a daily series of profiles of the 11 current and former Ohio State student-athletes to qualify for the 2012 Summer Olympic Games in London, which begin next week.
Katie Bell starred at Ohio State and has been among the best American platform divers for years, but her qualification to the Olympics is the completion of an amazing story. Bell is tied for the shortest member of Team USA’s 500-plus member delegation at 4-11, but her small stature belies a toughness that allowed her to come back from a major injury suffered during competition in 2007.
Hometown: Columbus, Ohio
Event: 10-meter platform diving, prelims Aug. 8, semifinal/final Aug. 9
How Qualified: Bell finished second to Brittany Viola – the daughter of former MLB pitcher Frank Viola – with 1,024.40 points at the U.S. trials held in Seattle in June, good enough to qualify as the top two advanced to London.
Medal Chances: American diving isn’t a world power, but the United States last claimed a medal in 2000 on platform when Laura Wilkinson captured gold. Bell and Wilkinson have trained together in the past. However, the competition will be steep in the form of 2008 gold medalist Chen Ruolin of China and 2008 silver medalist Emilie Haymans of Canada. Mexico’s Paola Espinosa is also a big contender.
Ohio State Career: Bell took second on platform in 2009 at the Big Ten meet then earned All-America honors with a fifth-place finish at the NCAA meet. During the summer of 2009, she went on to capture the U.S. national title on the event. After suffering a shoulder injury in 2010, she recovered from that to again earn All-America honors in 2011 as a senior.
In Her Own Words: “I started with gymnastics when I was 3. I was doing gym before and after school when I was 5 years old. I started diving at The Olympic Swim Club in Columbus for summer league when I was 8, just because I told my dad I wanted to have another chance at the Olympics. When I was 13, I ended up switching form gymnastics to diving.
“I just loved gymnastics when I was 5, watching Kerri Strug and Dominique Moceanu and their stories. I had every book possible on them, and I just wanted to be like them.
“I have six siblings. When I was younger, my two older sisters, they did gymnastics, and that was the reason I went in to gymnastics. I wanted to be just like them. Having so many siblings is a great support system. My parents are amazing. They had five kids and adopted two, and we also had foster kids. All of that made us all a lot closer. I live with my sister and she’s helped me through the last year, supporting me and stuff. Having them all behind me has helped me a lot.
“A lot of people go from gymnastics into diving. When I was 13, I quit gymnastics. I was just a little burned out. I wasn’t enjoying it as much anymore and I took the summer off. I realized I don’t know how to sit still, and I had been diving for the summer league, so I ended up just trying it out a couple of days a week and fell in love with it.
“I just remember my coach telling me to go to 10 meters and do a dive off of it. I was like, ‘You’re crazy. That’s really high.’ I just remember sitting up there like, ‘Oh my gosh, he’s really making me do this.’ But as soon as I did it, it was so fun. I always tell people it’s like a roller coaster. You go up there, you get really nervous before, and then you do it and you’re like, ‘Oh, let’s do it again.’
“I went to The Graham School. It’s right across the street from my house. It’s really unique because we only had classes Monday, Wednesday and Friday. On Tuesday and Thursday we had internships, and by my junior and senior years I was interning with my diving club. I was able to practice in the morning, learn the business and help younger kids in diving, so that gave me a lot more practice time than other kids.
“My senior year of high school, the Graham School does a program called ‘Walkabouts’ where kids go out in the community and around the world and all these other places doing things they enjoy. So my senior year I did a lot of diving. I went and dove with Laura Wilkinson for a week and I pretty much practiced a lot. I practiced eight hours a day my senior year.
“I decided to come to Ohio State because it had Vince (Panzano), who’s one of the best coaches, and the facility. They were making this facility (the McCorkle Aquatic Pavilion) before I came. I trained in the old facility and I told my dad, ‘They’re making the new one for me.’ So I wanted to come here and be able to train here. Having Coach and my family right here beside me, everyone at Ohio State is so supportive.
“When we are out in other countries it is so awesome to be able to see how many Buckeyes are actually out there. When we’re wearing our Ohio State stuff, in London and in Seattle and in Canada earlier this year, someone came up to us and was like ‘Go Bucks!’ or we’d walk by and they’d say ‘O-H!’ Just to have all those people around supporting us is really awesome.
“My freshman year at Big Tens on my second dive, I did an arm-stand triple. I ended up getting lost. I really didn’t know where the water and ceiling were and where I was and landed flat on my stomach. I collapsed a lung, separated my chest cartilage and popped ribs out of place. It took a really long process when I got home to figure out what actually what was wrong. It took me about two years to come back from that. I still have problems today with my ribs. I get them adjusted.
“Coming back from that accident, I didn’t know if I would be diving at all. I almost transferred schools and I almost quit completely. One of my diving teammates was a year younger than me, and the other day she said she remembers me coming in, doing one or two dives and getting out and crying or getting upset because it was so hard. But then the process back, I went and talked to psychologists, I did rehab with some of the best people at Ohio State, and having that team behind me brought me back to diving. It made me a better person because of it. I was not an open person and didn’t have good communication with people. After that, I learned a lot about myself and about other people around me.
“Two years after that I ended up hurting my shoulder. They think it was kind of from that injury; because I had a hard time moving my ribs I was overcompensating and putting other pressure on my shoulder. I ended up having shoulder surgery as well. I tore my labrum and messed up my rotator cuff. I was actually here at USA Nationals at Ohio State. I was on my second dive. I went in the water, I got a 9.5 on the dive, but I came out and I was like there something wrong with my shoulder.
“A lot of diving is mental. Coming back from all of that and getting up there and doing those dives again, there’s always that risk of getting hurt. I just learned to think about all the positives that come with it. Even the dive I got hurt on, I’ve done that dive a million times and gotten 9s. But there is that one chance I could get hurt, and that’s with every dive I do.
“I did gymnastics with (fellow U.S. diver and Columbus native) Abby Johnston. We’ve had the same coach for years. When we were in London in February, we talked about wanting to be back here together. I think I get more nervous watching her than actually competing. I was sitting next to (U.S. teammate) Kelci Bryant’s mom during her and Kelsey’s event. We were cheering and yelling so loud, and their event was so intense. They won by .4. Watching them really got me excited to go out and compete.
“I thought about (Olympic) trials more as our nationals. We have two nationals every year and in December we had nationals in Tennessee and I got second, and I knew going into this that I’ve been diving and training better than I was before that. So going in, I knew I’m competing with the same girls. It’s the same meet. I was like, the only difference is there’s more banners up. There’s things saying ‘Going to London,’ but that’s really the only difference.
“I think with all of my best dives that I’ve done, I’m competing right up there with everyone (in London). I know my list I did in semifinals of the Olympic trials, if I do that same list, I’m definitely a contender for a medal. Mom and dad will be going. One of my really good friends (Alison Wiswell) bought a ticket last year. She said, ‘I’m going and I’m going to go to watch you,’ and I told her I haven’t made it yet, and she said, ‘No you’ll be there.’
“I love bluegrass. I love all the different instruments that they play and the sounds of it all. When I’m competing, I always put in my headphones. I normally have a couple of songs that I listen to that I know all the words to. As I’m going up the tower, I’ll keep singing those songs so I’m not focused on anything else. I bought a mandolin last year and I want to learn how to play it. I figured out I’m not that musically talented, but when I’m done with diving, that will be my next task.
“My Twitter name is @HippieBell. Katie Bell was taken so many different ways. But am I a hippie? Sure, yeah. My family definitely is. I’m probably not as much as my family.
“I dove at the Olympic pool in February at the World Cup, so I’ve been to the pool and I’ve been to the village. Just seeing it and being in that environment already I think has got me prepared to go back. I’m really excited to see the difference between when I was there before and now. When I went there, they weren’t even done with the village. I got to see that being built. All the stuff that they’ve done around London, putting up all the Olympic rings and just seeing the difference between then and now, it’s going to be pretty cool.”