Clintonville's Bell dives her way to London
When she was 5 years old, Katie Bell was told by her parents that she was going to have to cut down on her gymnastics training schedule.
"I was doing gymnastics before and after kindergarten and my parents had me stop going before school when I was in first grade," said Bell, a Clintonville resident and 2007 graduate of The Graham School. "I told my dad I had to go to gymnastics every second of the day so I could practice for the Olympics."
The sport has changed, but Bell's commitment hasn't. She qualified for the U.S. Olympic women's diving team by placing second (1,024.4 points) in the 10-meter platform behind Brittany Viola (1,081.5) on June 24 during the U.S. Olympic trials at Weyerhaeuser King County Aquatic Center in Federal Way, Wash.
The top two finishers in each individual springboard and platform diving event and the top finishers in each synchronized diving event qualified for the U.S. Olympic team that will compete in the 2012 Summer Games in London. The Summer Games open July 27 and conclude Aug. 12.
The only other diver from central Ohio to make the U.S. Olympic team was 2008 Upper Arlington graduate Abby Johnston, who teamed with Kelci Bryant of Chatham, Ill., to win the women's 3-meter synchronized springboard.
Bell, who gave up gymnastics when she was 14 to focus solely on diving, said she wasn't overly concerned about where she finished in the Olympic trials, which were held July 17-24.
"No matter if I made it or not, I worked so hard to get to where I am today, I wouldn't have any regrets," she said. "Everything I've done definitely paid off. After the meet, I was in shock. I couldn't believe that the dream that I had since I was 5 years old had finally come true.
"Someone told me after the meet was over, 'You can say you're an Olympian.' It dawned on me, 'I am an Olympian. I will always be an Olympian.' That is really cool to say."
Bell was second (339.35) in the platform behind Viola (380.55) after the quarterfinal on the morning of June 20 and was second (703.75) behind Viola (734.3) after the semifinal later that day.
In the final, Bell scored a 67.2 on a backward, two-and-a-half somersault with a one-and-a-half twist pike to secure a spot on the team.
"I realized I had to dive the way I've been practicing," she said. "I just wanted to do my last five dives the way I know how to. I was a little disappointed with a couple of my dives, but I knew with this many dives, everyone was going to miss a couple of dives."
Bell never competed in high school diving. As a student at The Graham School, she spent two days a week exploring career options and volunteering in the central Ohio community. That led her to volunteering for the U.S. Elite Diving Academy (now called the Ohio State Diving Club), helping preschool-aged children while learning the business side of the sport.
"That also allowed me to train during those two days as well," Bell said. "The Graham School helped me so much with my training by giving me the freedom to go to practice while still going to class."
Bell made Ohio State's women's diving team but faced an uncertain future in the sport after a diving accident her freshman year during the Big Ten Conference Championships.
In her second dive of the meet, she "got lost in a dive" and ended up doing a belly flop from the platform. As a result, she suffered a collapsed lung, separated cartilage in her chest and popped several ribs out of place.
Bell said it took nearly two years to completely recover.
"It was like everything stopped," she said. "I didn't know if I was going to keep diving or not or even stay at Ohio State. Because of the accident, it made me a better person. It's made me a better diver and it's made me look at things from a different perspective.
"My family supported me all the way through it. They told me it was OK if I stopped diving or if I kept going. I've had all of them by my side the whole time. I knew if I was going to come back, I was going to aim for the Olympics."
After being redshirted her sophomore year, Bell returned to competing for the Buckeyes and was named second-team All-Big Ten after placing second in the platform in the Big Ten Championships. She also earned All-American honors after finishing fifth in the platform in the 2009 NCAA Championships.
Bell tore the labrum in her right shoulder on her second dive during the USA Diving Winter National Championships in December 2009 but did not withdraw from the meet. She ended up placing third, falling one place shy of earning a spot on the U.S. World Cup team.
Bell underwent surgery on the shoulder in March 2010 and returned to diving nine months later.
"I knew I had to get surgery really fast so I could start training again for the Olympics," she said. "The Olympics have always been there in the back of my mind my whole life. Every step along the way, I always told myself, 'Reach for the moon and you will catch some stars along the way.' I put my goals high and it feels great I was actually able to make it."