Exclusive: Hearing loss won’t hold back U.S. Olympic diver

Jason Owens

When U.S. Olympic diver Chris Colwill talks on the phone, he hears just fine. When he's hanging out with friends or teammates away from the pool, there are rarely communication problems. But when he steps to the 3-meter springboard, where he hopes to land his first Olympic medal in London, the game changes.

Colwill was born with 60 percent hearing loss. When he dives, he can't wear the hearing aids that allow him to hear at an 85-90 percent level. When the whistle blows announcing the next dive, Colwill doesn't hear it.

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"He can hear the applause," his coach, Dan Laak, told Yahoo! Sports. "He knows when the announcer's announcing his dive. He can't hear his name. He can't hear the actual dive being announced."

But Colwill believes this gives him a leg up over the competition.

"If anything, it may give me a little bit of an edge just because I can tune out what's going on with outside noise distractions," Colwill said. "I know how to put myself into focus. I'm really good at blocking out noises anyway. It definitely helps me more than it hurts."

But there was an apparently stressful moment during the U.S. trials in Seattle when Colwill climbed the ladder for a dive. He usually depends on the scoreboard to check for his dive number. When he got to the top, television cameras blocked his view. He couldn't see his dive number.

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An international competition veteran of eight years, Colwill had his bases covered, though. He looked to the referee, who gave him a head nod to let him know that, yes, it was his turn to dive. Then he went about his business.

That weekend, Colwill went on to land his Olympic spot in dramatic fashion. Battling Troy Dumais and Kristian Ipsen in a tight contest for two spots, he took the springboard on the final dive with an ace in the hole. As always, he had saved his best dive, a reverse 3 1/2 somersault, for last.

"Everyone in the world knows that he puts that dive last, and if you don't have a good enough lead on him, he's going to track you down in the last round," Laak said.

That's exactly what he did. He nailed his dive. Dumais and Ipsen crushed theirs, too, in what Laak described as the most exciting final round of competition he's ever seen. But it didn't matter. The degree of difficulty on Colwill's final dive was through the roof. He clinched first place with a 99.75, well ahead of the 91.80 that Ipsen and Dumais both scored. He'll be joined by Dumais on the 3-meter springboard in London.

"I definitely can [hear the crowd]," Colwill said. "After I did my last dive, I told other people that the crowd was so loud cheering me on, that when I was underwater, noises were actually lifting me out of the water."

After a 12th-place finish in Beijing, Colwill has his sights set higher for London. He's competed in the London pool before and says he's doing the best diving of his career. He's too humble to declare gold intentions, but Laak has no problems calling it how he sees it.

"We're extremely happy to be there, but we're going [to London] to bring home some hardware."

While not the favorite, if he brings his A-game like he did in Seattle, there's a chance Colwill could hear "The Star-Spangled Banner" on the podium.

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