Carrie Dragland won't be thinking about her form, her entry point or her family watching from the bleachers at Weyerhaeuser King County Aquatic Center when she seeks one of two Summer Olympics berths at next week's U.S. Olympic Diving Trials in Federal Way.
Thanks to her sports psychologist, her thoughts will be back in Florida, on a dance floor.
It's all part of the mental preparation she goes through before hitting the springboard.
“We talk about how to visualize what you are going to do and how to think of things as a performance, even down to thinking of a particular dive like a salsa dance move and counting it out," Dragland said of what races through her mind moments before launch. "I know how to salsa dance a little bit being down here in Miami.”
A Woodinville resident and graduate of Bothell High School, the fifth-year senior-to-be at the University of Miami enters the Olympic Trials a heavy underdog. She will compete in the 10M platform individual and 3M synchronized sessions after earning All-America honors in three diving events at the NCAA women's championships in March.
Not bad for someone who started when she was 18.
Hurricanes swimming coach Randy Ablemen said the former state champion gymnast might shock the field. Dragland's competition includes three former Olympians, all of whom appear poised to regain a spot on the U.S. team.
“The way the sport’s gone, it’s about doing the hardest dives, and she could do those,” he said. “Being a dynamic athlete where you can really jump and spin -- that’s her strength and that’s what the judges are looking for.”
However, Ablemen acknowledged Dragland's lack of international experience could be the difference between a plane ride to London and a plane ride to Miami. Her best finish at nationals was in 2011 when she was fifth in the platform.
Dragland will have to finish at least second in one of her events to make the Olympic team.
“I would consider her a bit of a long shot,” Ableman said. “She is very new to the sport. Her best days are ahead of her. She’s one of the top college divers right now but in the Olympic Trials you have to be the top two in the country, which is really, really exclusive.”
Dragland will be joined by another local diver and Atlantic Coast Conference rival Wednesday when Shoreline resident Katrina Young joins her in the 10M platform. A junior at Florida State, Young also earned All-America honors after taking fourth at the NCAA nationals.
Despite Young's early collegiate success, she admitted the Olympic Trials provides the same challenges her competitor faces. According to Young, a swimmer's mental toughness is often decisive.
The fact the Summer Olympics occurs every four years only serves to magnify the pressure.
“Your biggest competitor is yourself, because it’s all about keeping your nerves down and living up to that potential,” said the ACC champion.
Unlike Dragland, the Shorecrest High School graduate said she finds comfort in the event's location.
“It’s a really big advantage,” Young said. “I’m very excited that all my family is going to be there. Usually my family can’t come because I’m across the country going to school. To have those two things in my life come together is just going to give me a lot of good energy I’ll be really happy to have."
Young and Dragland said they are working to adjust their dives to match judges' standards. From perfecting entry points to refining technique, neither said they consider any aspect of their repertoir trivial.
"There's a misconception that the splash is most of the score," Young said. "It's about pointing your toes in the air and keeping your legs straight. It's about how high you jump, how fast you spin and how sharp your movements are."
Both realize, should they make the finals on June 24, it will simply come down to execution.
"I have the hard dives, but it’s being able to do it in competition," Dragland said. I’m just trying to be able to perform it and put on a good show.”