Going for Gold: Olympic diver Sam Dorman talks diving into pools and out of planes

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Sam Dorman

Sam Dorman doesn’t like to watch sports.

This is an odd sentiment considering he has been an athlete his entire life.

“I never optionally turn the TV on to ESPN,” says the 25-year-old diver. “I’ve never been intrigued by other sports; I’d much rather play them than watch them.”

Dorman, a Tempe native, is a six-time national diving champion. Over the summer, he took his skills to Rio to compete in his first Olympic competition, bringing home a silver medal in the synchronized 3-meter.

Dorman was just eight-years-old the first time he dove, and he hasn’t stopped yet.

THE JOURNEY FROM CLUB TEAMS TO OLYMPIC DREAMS 

“My dad was a teacher, so he would take us to the pool during the summer,” he recalls. “I was always on the diving board there and I loved flipping, so I took one of the diving classes … the coach pulled my parents aside and said, ‘He should dive for a club team; he would make a great diver,’ so that’s where it all really started.”

From there, Dorman started training at ASU under former Olympian Mark Bradshaw and subsequently worked with current coach Marc Briggs.

Though Dorman eventually made it to the Olympics himself, he admits his diving style hasn’t always been superlative.

“I had all the power and skill, but I was all over the place, so at the beginning, it was belly flop after belly flop after belly flop,” he says.

Dorman leaps off the diving board at the University Center Swimming Pool in Miami

Dorman’s go-to dive is the 109c –a move that involves 4 ½ front flips while tucked into a ball. However, the first time he tried the daring maneuver wasn’t so seamless.

“I unintentionally grabbed my pinky and snapped it, so I had a spiral fracture in my fifth metatarsal,” he recalls. “I didn’t even think about not diving or getting discouraged from it; it was just like, ‘Ok, how quickly can I heal?’ There wasn’t really a thought about stopping.”

Dorman began his diving career in local club teams. He competed in his first nationals when he was in fifth grade and won his first national title when he was 16-years-old. At 18, he won  a scholarship to the University of Miami.

“The coaches started talking like, ‘What are your goals? Do you want to go to the Olympics?’ and I was like, ‘Yeah, of course,’” he says.

Dorman dove with Joona Puhakka, a former ASU diver who competed in the Olympics in Sydney, Athens and Beijing.

“He was who I really looked up to in diving,” Dorman says. “Watching him dive really pushed me to want to go to the Olympics … leading up into college and going on recruiting trips, that was where it was kind of an eye-opener on how far I could take this.”

Though Dorman participated in  gymnastics and baseball when he was younger, he says the acrobatics and sense of belonging fueled  his passion for diving.

“It’s such a small community of people … your team really becomes your family,” he says.

He also says the catharsis of plunging underwater and fleetingly being enveloped in complete silence, only to emerge to the crowd going wild is “one of the greatest feelings ever.”

Dorman says being at the Olympics was both inspiring and intimidating.

“You’re around a bunch of other athletes that are Olympic medalists, so it’s a bit intimidating … but that definitely didn’t stop us when we got there,” Dorman says confidently. “We’re not here to go to the Olympics and just be another athlete at the Olympics, we’re here to get on the podium.”

Dorman wears his Olympic medal as he meets President Obama

He and his teammate Michael Hixon had a motto while in Rio – ”pray for rain.”

Dorman and Hixon faced a sizeable  advantage because they trained outdoors in Miami, an edge that many of the other competing countries lacked.

“I train no matter what the weather conditions are as long as there’s not lightening,” says Dorman. “Leading up to the event, we just hoped and hoped it was going to be rainy and windy; lo and behold, we come out of the locker room and it starts raining and we’re like, ‘This is it.’”

The silver-medal clinching dive was a perfectly synced front 4 ½ tuck.

“We went up there and did our front 4 ½ without thinking about it, and just absolutely destroyed the dive,” he says. “It was amazing.”

Dorman says one of the most rewarding aspects of the win was sharing it with his coach, Randy Ableman, who made the Olympic team in 1980 — the year the Olympics were boycotted. Ableman has trained athletes in seven summer Olympics, but this is the first time he’s trained a medalist.

“To be his diver and to get him as close to an Olympic medal as possible was huge,” says Dorman. “It was kind of like his redemption.”

EMBRACING FEAR, STAYING HUMBLE 

Next to his coaches, Dorman says his parents are his biggest source of motivation and support. He says making eye contact with his mom and dad for the first time after his dive was one of the most gratifying moments he’d ever experienced. He also credits them for keeping him humble.

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Dorman performs a tuck dive

“You realize that all the years of hard work paid off and everything you’ve given up, all the pain you go through … it’s all worth that one moment,” he says.

Dorman chuckles when asked about a typical day in his life. He explains how he just got back to Miami from California, where he was shooting a video for a new Snapchat channel called Yes Theory. Dorman repurposed his diving skills to jump out of a plane instead of into a pool.

“We got some epic footage,” he says. “We were doing all kinds of acrobatic stunts in the air from this small little plane … I don’t think I’ve ever been that nervous or scared in my life.”

Though Dorman still lives in Miami, he is somewhat of a hometown hero in Tempe. His prowess and personality led Tempe mayor Mark Mitchell to officially proclaim July 15 as Sam Dorman Day. He will also serve as grand marshal for the Thanksgiving Day parade in Fountain Hills.

Though he’s enjoyed a great amount of success, Dorman is only looking ahead.

“It’s pretty different now,” he admits. “I have an agent now and I’m looking for sponsorships to keep my training going for the next four years so I can dive until Tokyo and hopefully get a gold.”

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