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Tampa's Colwill tries to make U.S. Olympic diving team

If Chris Colwill's parrot had had a say in it, the standout diver from Tampa Prep would have enrolled at the University of Florida five years ago.

Colwill was such a big UF fan growing up that he painted his bedroom orange and blue and, at age 11, even taught his pet its favorite phrase: "Go Gators."

But something clicked with the Brandon resident when he visited the University of Georgia in 2003. He developed an easy rapport with diving coach Dan Laak and liked the chemistry between the swimming and diving teams. It was enough to make Colwill move his Olympic dreams to the land of the Bulldogs — and leave his parrot behind.

"He couldn't take it with him to Georgia and have it say 'Go Gators' all the time," Colwill's mother, Debbie, said.

Today, Colwill's bye-bye-birdie decision is looking darn good as he prepares to go airborne in his specialty — the 3-meter — with a spot in the Beijing Games at stake.

If he takes first place at the Olympic trials, which begin Wednesday in Indianapolis, Colwill will secure one of two places outright. If he doesn't win, there's still hope. The top six finishers qualify for the Olympic team selection camp July 2-6 in Knoxville, Tenn., so he would still have a chance to earn the team's second position.

"I feel really good, but it comes down to who has the best day at the right time," said Colwill, 23.

Colwill also has a chance to make the team at the selection camp in 3-meter synchronized diving with his partner, Jevon Tarantino, a national team veteran from Boca Raton and the University of Tennessee.

At the trials, he'll get his primary competition from Troy Dumais of the University of Texas — who's looking for his third Olympic appearance after sixth-place finishes in Athens in 2004 and Sydney in 2000 — and Tarantino. But Colwill brings an impressive resume of his own to the trials.

In 2006, he was the NCAA champion in the 1-meter and 3-meter events, the runnerup in platform and named diver of the year. On the world stage, Colwill has flourished as well, winning the 2007 Italian Grand Prix in the 1-meter and taking third in the 3-meter. This year his top finish is second in the 3-meter at the USA Diving Grand Prix.

Colwill always had a penchant for jumping and diving.

"I actually put Chris in a preschool gymnastics program when he was 2 1/2 because he was very active," his mother said. "He was doing flips around the house, jumping off tables."

The active toddler did gymnastics for two years. But the facility had a pool. One day, Chris saw some divers using the 10-meter board and said that he wanted to do that, too. Debbie waited a year, until he was 5, and then enrolled him in lessons.

He was a natural.

She and husband Chuck began paying for dual lessons, dropping Chris off at the front door for gymnastics practice, followed by diving classes. Then one day she ran into the gymnastics coach.

"He said, 'Where's Chris been? He hasn't been showing up for gymnastics,' " Debbie Colwill said. "I said, 'Oh really?' Well, what he had been doing was going straight to diving."

And he's been at it ever since. He started to compete at 7, won the first of many junior national titles shortly after that and became a force on the international scene at 15 with a first place in platform and third in 1-meter at the 1999 World Junior Championships.

Then came growing pains. At the time, Colwill was about 5 feet and 100 pounds, but over the next two years, he grew to around 5 feet 9, 150. His new frame threw his timing off, and that soon took a toll on his confidence. He went through a slump in high school but began to come out of it as a junior.

He continued to grow — now standing 5 feet 10, 175 — and excel, and he made major strides once he arrived at Georgia.

"As a competitor, he's really tough," Laak said. "One of his assets is that he's very consistent. He's training hard and looks good heading into the trials."

Laak is equally impressed with Colwill as a person.

"Chris is probably one of the most humble divers you'll meet," he said. "He's a great kid and one of the best-liked athletes in USA Diving."

Colwill was born with a 60 percent hearing loss, and he has to wear hearing aids. He began school in a special program for children with hearing impairments but attended mainstream classes for most of elementary school. He hit his stride upon entering Tampa Prep in seventh grade. In May, he graduated from Georgia with a degree in speech communication.

The hearing problem was never a big issue growing up, nor is it today.

"Sometimes I have to read lips as a backup to make sure I understand what they're saying," Colwill said. "But it's not too bad."

He says the hearing loss is even a plus in competition. Without amplification, he doesn't pick up talking or cell phones ringing.

"It's not completely silent up there. I can hear certain things, but for the most part, it does block out some distractions and help me focus," he said.

There's one thing he does hear.

"Applause," Debbie Colwill said.

Whatever happens, that's something there should be plenty of this week for the Bulldogs diver with the Gator-loving parrot.

>>FAST FACTS

Olympic

diving trials

When: Wednesday-Sunday

Where: Indianapolis

What's at stake: The winners of each event — men's and women's 3-meter and platform — make the Olympic team.

TV: 3:30 p.m. Saturday,

3 p.m. Sunday, Ch. 8.

Tampa's Colwill tries to make U.S. Olympic diving team 06/16/08 [Last modified: Tuesday, June 17, 2008 11:00am]

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