Johnston, Bell earn their way to London Games
Clintonville resident Bell also qualifies
Eight months of hard work and a lifetime of Olympic dreams came down to a simple nod of the head between former Upper Arlington High School diver Abby Johnston and her synchronized diving partner.
Johnston, a 2008 UA graduate who recently completed her career at Duke University, and Kelci Bryant, a Chatham, Ill., native who competed for the University of Minnesota, nailed a back, two-and-a-half pike dive on their final attempt in the women's 3-meter synchronized springboard competition during the U.S. Olympic trials on June 21 at Weyerhaeuser King County Aquatic Center in Federal Way, Wash.
The dive sealed a first-place finish for Johnston and Bryant, who scored 956.4 points to edge runners-up Kassidy Cook and Christina Loukas (955.98) and qualify for the 2012 Olympic Games in London.
"It's like a dream came true," Johnston said. "It came down to that last dive, but I just had the feeling it was going to work out all along. Right before we went, I looked at Kelci and I said, 'We've got this.'
"In the finals, I just had to turn off my brain (and) say, 'You know what you are doing' and not force anything. I couldn't be happier to be going to London with Kelci at my side."
Johnston, who finished 11th (563.95) in a semifinal of the women's 3-meter springboard but chose not to compete in the final, was one of 10 divers from central Ohio to compete in the Olympic trials, which were held June 17-24.
"It's incredible to see the legacy Columbus has in diving," Johnston said. "Some of these girls, like Katie Bell, are divers that I have known for a long time. It was also exciting to see the younger generation of divers, the ones who were in middle school when I left Columbus."
Bell, a Clintonville resident and 2007 graduate of The Graham School, was the only diver from central Ohio to qualify for the 2012 Summer Games, which start July 27 and conclude Aug. 12. A former Ohio State diver, she placed second (1,024.4) in the women's 10-meter platform behind Brittany Viola (1,081.5).
The top finishers in each synchronized diving event and the top two finishers in each individual diving event qualified for the U.S. Olympic team.
Johnston has had a lot of success individually on the springboard. As a member of the Golden Bears girls team, she captured Division I state titles in the 1-meter springboard in 2005 and 2007 and was state runner-up in 2006.
While at Duke, she captured the program's first national title by winning the 3-meter springboard during the 2011 NCAA Championships.
But Johnston discovered her true passion, synchronized diving, in 2007. She opted not to compete for UA as a senior to focus on making the 2008 Olympic team in synchronized diving with Mary Yarrison, a diver for the University of Texas. Johnston and Yarrison were invited to a four-day selection camp but weren't chosen for the team.
"I just really enjoy synchronized diving," Johnston said. "It helps so much to have someone else up there with you and to talk with during the high-pressured situations."
Last fall, Johnston began working with Bryant, who had competed in the 2008 Beijing Olympics, and other divers for the opportunity to make the 2012 U.S. Olympic team. She said she "turned a corner" when she decided to train exclusively with Bryant, who had placed fourth in the synchronized springboard in the 2008 Olympics with former partner Ariel Rittenhouse.
Johnston and Bryant placed fourth (315) behind China's Wu Minxia and He Zi (345.3), Canada's Jennifer Abel and Emilie Heyman (321.9) and Italy's Tania Cagnotto and Francesca Dallape (317.15) in the FINA World Cup on Feb. 25 in London. The meet was held at the same venue that the 2012 Summer Games will be held.
Johnston and Bryant then won a silver medal in the 2012 FINA/Midea Diving World Series on March 23 in Beijing with 306.3 points behind Minxia and Zi (347.7) and won a bronze medal in the FINA/Midea Diving World Series on April 13 in Moscow with 303.3 points behind Minxia and Zi (320.4) and Cagnotto and Dallape (304.8).
"In September, we just decided, 'We can do this. We have what it takes to make the Olympics and get on that podium,' " Johnston said. "(Training together exclusively) is what gave us the edge.
"We were able to focus on the small details of our training. There are a lot of little things that make an impression on the judges, like the way you both climb the ladder and walk to the end of the boards together. We've perfected that over the last several months."