US Olympic Diver Christina Loukas

Featured Athlete: Olympic Diver Christina Loukas

Posted Portes Magazine PEOPLE
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Christina LoukasTeam USA Olympic Diver 2008/2012

Height: 5’ 4” | Birthdate: December 19, 1985 | Birthplace: Chicago

Growing up in Illinois, Christina Loukas was immersed in sports. She played softball, basketball, and performed ice-skating and gymnastics. But it was diving she liked the most, and diving that took her all the way to the Beijing (2008) and London (2012) Olympics.

In 2008, competition to make Team USA was fierce. To make just the Olympic Trials, divers had to place top 12 at a national meet. First place had a spot in the Olympics, while a second diver was chosen by a committee based on previous experience in national competitions. “It was scary because I had never won a national title before so I knew I had to win the trials to make the team, but I took it one dive at a time,” recalls Loukas. Outscoring her peers in the competition, she won first place. She was going to the Olympics.

For Loukas, who is half Greek on her father’s side, obedience in daily training, and the support of her family are what got her so far. “My family is the most important thing to me,” she says. “They always traveled with me when I go to competitions.” Back in the pool, Loukas handled diving like a job. A typical day would include out-of-water springboard practice, then several hours working on competition dive techniques, followed by Pilates and yoga.

Used to the high-bouncing 3-meter springboard, Loukas faced the challenge of a 10-meter platform at Indiana University, where she studied and trained. “When you’re standing up there backwards and you have to flip so many times at a twist, it’s scary, and the water is not forgiving,” Loukas recalls. “I think every time I had to train 10-meter I cried because I hated it, but I was good at it and that’s actually how I made my first couple international meets,” she says. At the Olympics, each country has a maximum of two spots per event, for which there is a total of 30 spots, Loukas explains. Countries qualifying for finals get to send representatives to the world championship’s diving board.

Behind the Scenes

The Olympic games, a tradition dating back to 776 B.C. Greece, are today marked as the world’s premier celebration of athleticism and peace. Host countries spend years and billions of dollars in preparation for the event. (The Athens 2004 games cost an estimated 10 billion euros.) Many participants spend the early years of their lives training to make it there. And the world watches. But having competed in two Olympic games, Loukas says that behind the scenes, it’s all diving as usual for her. “Honestly, the Olympics are just a world championship meet with a bunch of media attention, that’s all it is,” she says. “In the pool it’s still the same type of crowd, the same judges, the same competition.”

Unlike millions of spectators worldwide, Loukas, who experienced the Olympics firsthand, says she has not watched recordings of her performance or the opening ceremonies. “When you’re in the opening ceremonies you don’t see anything. You hang out and then you line up and march in after a 2-3 hour wait,” she says.

Facing the Jump

Immediately after the Beijing games where she placed 9th, Loukas began work for 2012, until diving and stress got the best of her. “I had mental blocks. I couldn’t dive anymore. I couldn’t do dives I had been doing for 6 years,” she recalls. “It was horrible. I dreaded it.”

“I couldn’t dive anymore.  It was horrible. I dreaded it.”

Having suddenly lost her appetite for the one thing that so much defined her daily life, Loukas grew depressed in school. “I would get on the board and I’d be terrified to do my dives. I would just close my eyes and go and hope I did it right…it was the most frustrating thing ever and my coach didn’t handle it well.”

After dealing with stress for a year, Loukas decided to take herself off the world championship team, pack her bags, and go home.  “I hated diving,” she recalls. But after 8 months of calling it quits Loukas’ family revived her dream to place in the Olympics again, and in 2010 she moved to Houston, Texas, to train with a new coach. Two years later, having placed 2nd of two finalist divers chosen to represent Team USA, Loukas was back in the game and going to London. “At my first Olympics I didn’t really feel like I belonged, but the second time around I knew I had really earned it,” she says.

“At my first Olympics I didn’t really feel like I belonged, but the second time around I knew I had really earned it.”

In London, just as in Beijing, Loukas didn’t take home any medals, but making it all the way to the games is a dream for so many, and a great honor for all participants. After the experience of a lifetime, Loukas knew she was ready to move on and retire as an athlete. “I’m done as an athlete but I want to continue working with athletes and be involved in sports,” she says. Loukas is now looking forward to pursuing sports medicine and plans on attending physical therapy school.