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"Championship diving demonstrates the mental control required to compete with the best. Nearly everyone who qualifies for the big meets can complete the dives with the requisite amount of skill and finesse, but those who do it, dive after dive, with the pressure mounting, are the ones who win consistently," Jeff Mule, Harvard's number one diver, said recently.
In recent weeks, the talented sophomore has proven himself capable when the battle of nerves rages around him. After cruising through the dual meet season with a combined total of just four losses from both the high and low boards. Mule stole the show at the Easterns at Dartmouth the first weekend in March.
After what he labeled "a disappointing showing" off the 1-meter board--second place to Cornell's John Krakora--Mule fought off all challengers by executing a forward one and one-half somersault with three twists on his final dive of the 3-meter contest to secure first place.
With the Karl Michael Award for high point diver at Easterns tucked safely away in his trophy case, the Princeton, N.J. native journeyed to Cornell this past weekend for the Division I NCAA Eastern Regional qualifying meet. Steady and consistent diving allowed him to sew up the last qualifying spot in the 1-meter competition. Only four of the 24 competitors in each event are invited to the NCAAs.
When a momentary lapse forced him out of the top four and into seventh place during the 3-meter event, the levelheaded Mule turned once again to his "triple twister," which registers a 2.8 degree of difficulty out of a possible 3.0, and climbed back into the money with a cool and precise execution of that dive, a new addition to his ever-expanding bag of tricks.
Locking up fourth from both boards, Mule earned a trip to the 1981 NCAA Division I Swimming and Diving Championships, scheduled for March 26-28, where he will compete with the 40 top divers in the country.
Mule began his diving career ten years ago in the summer leagues around Princeton. Unlike many sports, where development is carefully monitored with year-round coaching and competition for even the youngest participants, many divers receive only sporadic instruction until college.
Fortunately, the Peddie School, where Mule prepped, did arrange for coaching three afternoons a week. In return, the school's lone diver dominated the prep school ranks with three New Jersey State Championships, two Eastern. Interscholastic titles and three All-America nominations.
After rejecting full diving scholarships to what he considered "less academically and athletically balanced schools," Mule opted for Harvard.
In addition to enjoying the academic climate, the History concentrator expresses appreciation for Harvard's outstanding diving facilities and the coaching expertise of former Indiana diver John Walker.
The pace at Blodgett Pool practice sessions also suits the hardworking Mule: to supplement the two to three hours spent each day on the boards, Crimson divers also do nautilus weight training and extensive trampoline work.
The trampoline workouts allow Walker to guide team members step by step through each new dive and stop them periodically to demonstrate proper form. The intricate system of pulleys, weights and belts makes this the safest way to instruct divers before they attempt actual execution from the boards.
"I enjoy the challenge of the sport. Once a diver reaches a certain level of proficiency, there are always new dives to be learned. You are almost never perfect, but instead constantly striving to correct any number of minute flaws," Mule said.
"I prefer the high board. Although you have a half second or so longer in which to perform, the maneuvers are more difficult and there is more risk involved," he added.
In the two years Mule has spent under Walker's tutelage, he has not only expanded his repetoire of dives, but also streamlined the mental process. In the short time it takes to get from the board to water, a diver can be bogged down by the lengthy list of items that separate a good dive from a bad one. To avoid this, Walker urges his divers to focus their attention on board work, take-off action and line-up action.
This season, Mule put in long hours to improve his entries. Presently he is mastering the art of ripping, a technique that quality divers use to minimize the water displaced at entry.
This year with better entries, improved concentration and new dives, the Eliot House resident earned a spot in the record books. He set the University 1-meter mark with apoint accumulation of 324.95 for six dives.
"Jeff is a fine diver. He improved tremendously over the course of this season and now, this very week, while preparing for the NCAAs he is still coming on strong. His potential for improvement is unlimited because of his own inner motivation to become a better diver," Walker said recently.
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