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St. Petersburg youth, 12, dives right into U.S. championships

A push here, a twist there and concentration everywhere are necessary ingredients to successful diving.

Austin Hampton, 12, knows the recipe very well, and through today is competing in his second U.S. National Diving Championships in Orlando.

Hampton, of St. Petersburg, qualified for the nationals through a regional competition in Coral Springs and then a zone meet in Rickville, Md., both last month.

"Last year at the winter nationals I placed 12th on the 1-meter dive and 11th on the 3," said Hampton. "This time I qualified for the 1-meter and platform diving."

The preteen began diving when he was about 8 years old and chose that over swimming and gymnastics as his favorite sport.

"I think it's just great to qualify for nationals," said George Purdue, coach with the Suncoast Diving Club since October. "There will be a good competitive list since it's a national, but I don't really know what to expect. I do, however, expect Austin will finish in the middle of the pack this time."

Hampton and his family traveled to the YMCA Aquatic Center in Orlando on Monday for the opening ceremonies, and Hampton competed in platform diving Tuesday. A top-12 finish would have advanced him to Wednesday's finals.

"I was a half-point or a point away from advancing to finals on platform," said Hampton. "I had about 27 in my age group, and I needed some better scores on the twister dives which might have made a difference. Still, I'm happy about how I did."

Hampton performed seven different dives on the platform and was scheduled to execute eight different dives in his favorite event, the 1-meter board on Saturday. A top-12 finish would advance him to today's finals.

"This is my favorite event, so I'm looking forward to it," said Hampton. "I'll need to concentrate, focus and just take one dive at a time."

Last week, to prepare for the national competition, Hampton practiced twice a day and performed each of the dives at least four times. Also, a final ritual for Hampton is to eat pasta the day before the competition because it makes him feel lighter.

"My goals are to make finals, do my very best and have fun," said Hampton. "Going to nationals is very rewarding and something I'm proud of."

Hampton was joined by fellow Suncoast Diving Club member Katie Smolen, 11, of Largo at the national competition. Smolen competed on the platform among 26 divers in her age division.

"Seeing these kids at nationals will show how the quality of coaching we have has helped," said Debbie Hampton, president of the Suncoast Diving Club. "They are helping the divers grow and reach their potential."

Hampton's ultimate goal is to qualify for the Olympic Games when he is 18.

ROLLER HOCKEY: The Largo Lizards 10-and-under roller hockey team is in Atlanta through today competing in the North American Roller Hockey Championships. The squad will then travel to Las Vegas for the Tournament of Roller Hockey Series Aug. 12-15.

Playing for the Lizards are John Grasso, Shan Isett, Jason Almcrantz, Myles Harvey, Kurtis Rhoton, Alex Schlau, Eric Busch, Tommy Fairall, Abraham Ross and Max Richberg. John Isett and Paul Grasso coach the team.

SWIMMING: Today concludes the Pinellas Aquatic League Championships at the Long Center in Clearwater. Teams from Lakewood Country Club, Bardmoor, East Lake Woodlands, Countryside, Lansbrook and Westlake Village are competing.

FOOTBALL: Youths ages 8-15 who are interested in participating in the Pinellas Youth Football Conference should contact one of the following organizations: Childs Park Jr. Rattlers (823-2262), Gibbs Jr. Gladiators (327-3993), Greenwood Panthers (442-6986), Lakewood Jr. Spartans (322-0102), Largo Jr. Packers (581-7015), Pinellas Park Thunderbirds (391-4349) and St. Pete L'll Devils (865-9091).

Players and cheerleaders are eligible for any organization regardless of residence.

JUDO: Kirk Hoffman won the heavyweight division in last month's Maruchan Youth International Judo Championships in Miami. Jack Jonas earned a bronze medal in the middleweight division. More than 400 competitors from the United States, Canada, Europe, South America, Central America and Asia participated in the event.

In other competitions, Hoffman has won both gold and silver medals in the U.S. Judo Federation Junior Championships, a gold in the U.S. Junior Olympics, and silver and bronze in the U.S. Judo Association Junior National Championships. As a result, he has been invited to represent the United States in this month's Junior Pan American Judo Championships in Tampa.

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