Aug. 11, 2016
By Brad Muller | More Features
Julia Vincent may have only been diving for six years, but the rising South Carolina junior already owns a pair of school records, earned All-American honors, and now she can add Olympian to her resume. Vincent will compete for her homeland of South Africa at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.
"It hasn't really hit me yet," Vincent said. "I haven't thought about it much because when I come to the pool every day, I don't think about what I am training for; I train to have a good meet. I'm excited for it to happen. When I am putting on the gear and ready to go, that might be when it will actually hit me.
"To win a medal would be the most incredible honor in my life. I haven't really thought about that. I'm just hoping to have a good meet, and we'll see if it places me high enough."
Vincent has already enjoyed an amazing year after earning All-America honors by finishing fourth at the NCAA Championships on the 1-meter board, and she placed sixth in 1-meter at the SEC Championships. She won the 3-meter diving competition at the 2016 South African Olympic Trials in April to secure her spot on the national team.
"That day at nationals was a very weird day for me," Vincent said. "I've never been as nervous as I was that day. Getting to the end, and knowing I had a good result and did what I had wanted to do was a surreal feeling. I've never felt like that before, so it was good to have my family around me.
"It's everything that I wanted. I knew that I had to win. I've wanted to win nationals before, but there was so much on the line because if I didn't win, I wouldn't go to the Olympics. I think that would be more nerve wracking, and I think the Olympics will just be fun."
South Carolina head diving coach Todd Sherritt is coaching Vincent for what will be his fourth trip to the Olympics having been to Atlanta in 1996, Sydney in 2000 and Athens in 2004.
"It doesn't get old," Sherritt said of coaching in the Olympics. "I think I'm just as excited as I have ever been with anybody to take Julia because of the way she trains, and she is fun to be around. She is super-talented. She has the physical talent to do it."
Despite being the only diver competing for South Africa, and the only female member of the nation's swimming and diving team, Vincent isn't putting any extra pressure on herself.
"I just want to hit every dive the way I was meant to hit it and the way Todd wants me to hit it," Vincent said. "If I don't make the semifinal, but I have had a good meet and I'm happy with my dives, I will count that as a success."
Vincent is somewhat of a newcomer to diving as she grew up competing in other sports such as field hockey, track, and netball. She wasn't exposed to the sport until she went to high school.
"I did start a little later than most people in diving," Vincent said. "I didn't really start thinking about being an Olympian until maybe four years ago, but more specifically it was really when I came here to South Carolina. I told Todd that I wanted to get to the Olympics and asked if he could help get me there."
It's just a matter of time before she is one of the top divers in the world.
"She has a really clear vision," Sherritt said. "I think it's her drive that has allowed her to catch up with a lot of people. You can out-train everybody, and you can train with everybody, but if you are a visionary, you can get ahead of everybody. I think that's really the key to her. She has a clear vision of what she wants to do with her diving.
"She really had to punch her way through to make the (national) team. There was nothing easy. She wasn't going to be denied it. It was a nail-biter at the trials. She had to hit her last dive, and she did it."
It's that training she received at South Carolina that has helped her develop into an Olympic caliber diver.
"Just being able to be at a much better training facility with an incredible coach was a big part of it," Vincent said. "Todd is an incredible coach. I wouldn't want to go without him. He is able to teach me everything about diving and what I need to do to fix my dives. A lot of it has to do with the amount of training I get to do here, and the amount of support I get from my teammates and coaches."
"I think she has improved in her head a lot," Sherritt said. "Being able to stay focused is a big deal for her. Just believing in her head that she can do these things, and her ability to make corrections is huge. She has made amazing changes mechanically. Her mental vision has really grown since she has been here."
When she is standing on the diving board, Vincent clears her thoughts and has one thing on her mind.
"I think a lot about how I can execute exactly what Todd wants me to execute," Vincent said. "Most of the time I know whether I hit the dive once I hit the water. It just depends on the dive. Sometimes I will know as soon as I leave the board that it's going to be a good one. Other times, I'll be pleasantly surprised when I come up.
"Shaking off a bad dive is a lot harder than moving on from a good dive. It depends on the situation. If the dive is not going to have a huge effect on where you are going to be placed, I just move on. The hardest is knowing you have to hit the dives you have left when you didn't hit the one before. It can be very difficult."
While she is tremendously excited about her Olympic opportunity and will likely be a little nervous, Vincent has already competed against many who will be competing in Rio.
"We've competed against each other at world championship meets and World Cups," Vincent said. "I've seen them dive, and I know the level I am going up against. It will be a little less intimidating because it won't really be a new field of divers. It will be good going in because I won't be as nervous."
"It's just a matter of time before she is one of the top divers in the world," Sherritt added. "There's no question about it. The judges love that person that comes out of nowhere. International judges really want to see style. So we're doing that with her, and I think that combination with her power, quickness and explosiveness makes me really excited. Her personality really comes through in her diving."
When she is not in the pool, Vincent is looking forward to checking out other competitions and sites in Rio.
"I want to experience the Olympic atmosphere as a whole instead of just swimming and diving," Vincent said. "It will be nice to be able to go and support South Africa in other sports and watch other records be broken. I think I really want to watch some of the track events. I want to watch (Jamaican sprinter) Usain Bolt run. I want to go see as many sports as I can."
That will likely include seeing some of her Gamecock teammates competing for their home countries as well, including swimmer Akaram Mahmoud, who will swim for Egypt.
"That's probably the part I am most excited about because I get to watch them train every day," Vincent said. "I know how much work they put in. I know what it means to them to be representing their countries."
With the diving events normally held somewhat early in the Olympic Games, Vincent is also looking forward to taking in other sites when she is done competing.
"Luckily, I have been to Rio before so I know where I want to go again," Vincent said. "I'll definitely explore more of the beaches and find more tourist attractions because it is such a beautiful place to be. I will probably go to the Christ the Redeemer again. That's the massive statue in the middle of it all. Just to explore and see what's out there will be fun."
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