Excelling in Obscurity
Compared to the 25-yard-by-50-meter expanse of swimming lanes, the diving well is an unobtrusive nook in Blodgett Pool. If not for the platform tower stretching nearly eight meters above the floor, a first-time visitor to Blodgett might miss the well altogether. But in this deep pond, the Harvard divers, men's and women's, the best divers in the East, fly through the air with the greatest of ease, practicing perfect tucks and knife-like entries.
Unlike most sports at the University, the men's and women's diving squads have grown together and both teams are presently the champions of their leagues, Ivy for the women and Eastern Seaboard for the men. If you ask him, coach John Walker will list several reasons why this is so. But he will neglect to mention the most important reason--himself.
In his tenth year at Harvard and his fifth as both men's and women's coach, Walker has guided what he describes as an "evolution" in Harvard diving. Nationally recognized, Walker has coached several U.S. international teams, and at the University of Minnesota he helped Craig Lincoln win a bronze medal in the 1972 Munich Games.
"I think of myself as a diving coach," Walker says, "and the sport of diving does not mean male or female." When he came to Harvard, Radcliffe had no diving program. One girl, Nancy Soto, "was a recreational diver, but she didn't have a full list of dives," Walker recalls. After a year with Walker and the men's squad, Soto was fourth in the East and qualified for the national championships.
Walker's charges train together two hours a day, six days a week, a practice schedule that he feels relaxes the atmosphere. "The men want to see the women do well and the women want to see the men do well and someone like Danny Watson--the team's world-class freshman--is a catalyst for the whole group."
The divers describe Walker as easy-going, flexible and enjoyable. "He doesn't want it to be work, work, work without enjoying the sport," Jeff Mule, Eastern champ at three-meters and second on the low board, notes. Pam Stone, winner of the 1979 AIAW Small College Nationals and reigning Ivy three-meter champ, describes Walker as "the typical father/coach figure."
But pulling double duty can be difficult for Walker. So he will be at West Point for the men's three-meter event, then return to Blodgett for the women's one-meter.
A classy group of divers like Watson, Mule, Stone, junior Adriana Holy, sophomore Karl Illig and freshman Jennifer Goldberg is the more apparent reason for Harvard's achievements. "The most successful programs are the ones that recruit consistently and we've been very lucky lately," Walker says, adding that he depends on the many academic opportunities he can offer to draw top-flight athletes like Watson, as well as less-talented divers who could benefit from the program.
With a list of credentials as long as a diving board, Watson is raising the performance of the entire squad, as well as grabbing individual honors. "Danny's doing things not normally seen around the Ivies or Easterns and that makes everybody want to try it," Mule said.
Sharing a coach and training time builds cameraderie, the divers say. "Having the men around adds a lighter atmosphere to workout--a time when things can get pretty intense," Holy, the Ivy one-meter champ, says.
All the divers consider the sport the best way to get away from lectures and problem sets. "Practice is a kind of release, and you can go back to academics and feel like you accomplished something," Mule notes. Holy, a Biochemistry concentrator, adds, "I can go to workout and forget everything--it's therapeutic."
Training for the squad means 70 to 100 dives a day, six days a week. In addition to practicing each dive three times on both boards, the divers do trampoline and a dryland board work.
But if they have to practice, Blodgett Pool is the place to do it. "We have as good a springboard facilities as anywhere in the country," Walker says, adding that the pool's flaw is the absence of a ten-meter platform--a flaw that can hurt recruiting.
Walker is aware that his charges don't receive much attention, but it doesn't bother him. "Our performances speak for themselves," he says. "It's nice to be recognized, but my satisfaction comes from seeing my team do well."
The lucky few who have seen the divers would agree that satisfaction comes from seeing Walker's teams do well. And they always do.