Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Smooth diver makes big splash

Winnipeg's Harrison, a newcomer to the sport, makes national team

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On Sunday afternoon, with a shot at a coveted national team spot on the line, Aimee Harrison stepped to the edge of the three-meter springboard, rose to her toes, and made one final plunge into the Pan Am Pool.

That fifth and final dive -- a back one-and-a-half somersault, two-and-a-half-twists -- wasn't the Charleswood woman's highest-scoring dive of the day, but the score still clinched it. Minutes later, Diving Canada chief technical officer Mitch Geller made it official: With her performance at the Diving Canada Winter Nationals this weekend, Harrison, 18, had punched her ticket to join the Canadian national diving team at the Canada Cup in May.

"It feels a little bit surreal," Harrison said, hair still damp from the pool and a grin creeping across her face. "I was pretty steady all weekend, but I was trying not to let it sink in too much. I'm really happy."

When the word of Harrison's advancement came out, Revolutions diving club coach Dallas Ludwick pumped her fist in the air, and mouthed a silent cheer. Going into the weekend, Ludwick believed her protegé could push for a spot in the finals. The fact that she earned a spot on the national team -- well, that seemed more of a dream.

"I knew she had the potential," Ludwick said, noting that Harrison had been "really sharp" on her key dives, including a back two-and-a-half somersault. "She's only been doing this for three years, and to have this kind of result is amazing."

Although the former gymnast only started training seriously as a diver in 2011, her scores hung tough with some of Canada's top divers, including 2012 Olympic bronze medallist Jennifer Abel. Harrison had placed third in the preliminary round, fourth in the semifinals. Then, while a gaggle of family, friends and fellow Revolutions divers cheered from the stands, she clinched her top-four finish.

"I feel like I really attacked in my hurdles," she said, speaking of a drive to hit every position fully. "I was definitely feeling the nerves, but really just sitting by myself and zoning out helped."

So too, perhaps, is the fact Harrison had just flown in from a previous meet. Last weekend, the recently enrolled University of Hawaii student had competed at the NCAA conference championships in Colorado Springs, Colo. Although having two meets only a week apart was stressful, "I think it was beneficial," Harrison said. "I stayed a lot more focused."

That steady performance impressed Geller, who strolled over to high-five the young diver after the meet. "She was remarkably consistent," the Diving Canada chief technical officer said, moments before giving Harrison the good news. "This was the first major nationals where something was at stake for her.... For a newcomer, it's fantastic to see that kind of progress."

Indeed, Harrison's performance was one of several bright lights at the 2013 Winter Nationals. Although the competition was smaller than usual, with 33 divers -- injuries, retirements and a major junior meet next weekend limited the size of the pool -- Geller said he was pleased with the potential on display.

"We're well aware of where we need to improve in order to be in contention for medals in 2016," Geller said, pointing at rising Quebec stars Maxim Bouchard, Philippe Gagne and Vincent Riendeau -- who finished first, second and third on the men's open platform on Sunday -- as talents to watch.

"One area we need more speed, and more power, is the men's three-metre. And we'll see what the kids can do over the next four years."

melissa.martin@freepress.mb.ca

Friesen in form

THE weekend's Winter Nationals meet marked a welcome return to the podium for one familiar face in Canadian diving. Emma Friesen, of Victoria, B.C., missed almost two seasons due to ankle and shoulder surgeries, illness and the pressures of school. Last year, she started a comeback bid with a third-place showing at the Olympic trials, and followed it up with a sixth-place finish at the 2013 FINA Grand Prix in Madrid last month.

At the Pan Am Pool, Friesen led the women's three-metre springboard after the preliminary round, and finished in third place after the finals with a score of 303.75 -- one spot above her fellow University of Hawaii competitor, Winnipeg's Aimee Harrison.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 4, 2013 C5

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