3 Canes repping the U at Rio Olympics
There's something in the water at the University of Miami: Olympic swimmers.
Canes competing at the upcoming Rio Summer Olympics are divers Sam Dorman (USA) and Marcela Maric (Croatia) along with swimmer Heather Arseth (Mauritius). Cane diving coach Randy Ableman will also be there, working with Dorman.
Arseth and Dorman graduated from Miami in 2015, and Maric is a rising sophomore.
This is the second straight Olympics where a Miami Hurricane diver will represent Team USA; Brittany Viola competed in the platform event at the 2012 Olympics in London.
UM, of course, has a strong reputation for producing divers dating back to when Greg Louganis won gold medals in 1984 and 1988. A total of 11 Cane divers, representing seven different countries, competed at the Olympic Games since 1992.
Now Ableman hopes to personally witness a Cane landing a medal for the first time in his 23 years with the program.
"This is my seventh Olympic Games, always with someone that went to UM, and that's very special," Ableman said. "I'm very much looking forward to hopefully getting a medal for the U.S., because that's something we have not done yet. My best performance with one of my athletes has been a fourth-place finish. I'm very driven to go down there and take care of business and hopefully get some hardware."
The best chance of that might belong to Dorman. He, along with synchronized 3-meter partner Michael Hixon, clinched the U.S. bid in the event with a first-place finish at U.S. Olympic Trials.
“Sam is absolutely at the top of his game,” Ableman said. “He’s in perfect shape. He’s doing the hardest dives in the world, and doing them spectacularly. It’s very gratifying to be a part of that development, and to see a kid achieve so many of his goals and dreams.”
Dorman, 24, is a four-time national team member who has won four synchronized three-meter national titles. He previously competed with Kristian Ipsen, who with Troy Dumais earned an Olympic bronze medal four years ago.
In the Olympic Team Trials this year Dorman/Hixon placed ahead of Ipsen/Dumais. It was a late switch of partners before trials for Dorman, and it worked well.
"It was a big surprise switching over to Mikey, was unexpected, stressful, hectic, all of the above," Dorman said. "I was stressed about getting to know him, get used to him. But after the first week of training, after the first two or three days we picked up our synchro, the rhythm came in."
Dorman says the change of partners came because "we had a synchro camp two months before trials to see if our synchro teams were the best options leading into trials. They said `Sam, your strengths match up better with Michael's strengths so we want you guys to synch up.' And they said, `Kristian, we want you with Troy.' It was definitely intimidating going into trials knowing they're the bronze medalists."
Now that he's an Olympian, Dorman can't wait to soak (pardon the pun) in the atmosphere.
Aside from his own event, he's particularly looking forward to the opening ceremonies.
"I've heard it's an amazing experience," he said. "I'm going to have my GoPro and every camera possible to document the whole thing."
He's also excited to meet the other American Olympians.
"I'm sad LeBron (James) is not going, that would have been pretty cool," he says.
A big media headline in recent months is the Zika scare, and that hasn't escaped Dorman.
"I have my bug spray," Dorman said. "I'm not too worried about it."
He's focused no one task, and it's not avoiding mosquitoes.
"I think we can get a medal, I really do," Dorman said. "If we go there and dive like we've been diving we have a good shot of getting a medal."
While Dorman is the most recent in a long line of American Olympic divers, Maric is the first diver of Croatian descent ever to qualify for the Olympics.
"It's a great honor," Maric said. "I'm so excited, so happy, can't wait to represent my country in my sport for the first time ever."
Maric says diving is "a really small sport" in Croatia.
Water polo, rowing, track & field and handball are the most popular Olympic sports for her country.
"We have an outdoor pool on the sea, which is very unusual, and that's actually how I started," Maric said. "I always liked diving and just stuck to it."
She will compete in the 3-meter springboard event, punching her ticket by virtue of her performance at the 2016 FINA World Cup.
“She earned her spot at the World Cup in Rio, where she placed 27th, and that was just good enough for her to earn a spot," Ableman said. "We knew it was going to be close, and it’s a very complex system.”
Ableman said that Maric was overwhelmed upon receiving the news she'd made the Olympic cut.
“She was crying with sadness when I called (thinking she hadn't made it), then when I gave her the news she started crying even more - tears of happiness,” Ableman said. “It made me feel good about how important it is to her, and she’s worked very hard this year. For her to represent her country, and be the first Croatian to do so, I’m very proud of her.”
Maric, a psychology major who plans to be a sports psychologist, says she's flabbergasted now that "a lot of people ask for my autograph" back home.
Depending how she fares, those autograph requests could multiply.
"I'm trying not to think about it that much - when I get there I believe I'm going to be very nervous because I'm that kind of type," Maric said. "Hopefully the happiness and the honor is going to beat the fear."
A potential advantage for Maric ... and Dorman: They train on the outdoor diving board at UM, and Rio's venue is also outdoors.
"We train outdoor every day, so we're used to that," Dorman said. "Divers going from indoors to outdoors have a little bit of an issue just from the different view of everything. Wind, rain, all those little things do get to people."
The non-diver competing for the Canes is Arseth, who will represent Mauritius in the 100-meter freestyle. For the uninitiated, Mauritius is an island nation in the Indian Ocean.
Arseth grew up in Minnesota.
"My mom is from Mauritius, was raised there, and when she turned 18 she ended up going to Minnesota for college," Arseth said. "My dad is Swedish and Polish, so I've always gotten that `What are you?' I'm kind of a mix of everything."
Arseth first returned to visit Mauritius when she was 2, and she returned again as a high school sophomore and began competing in swimming there at that time.
"I ended up training with the national team, competing in a national competition at the end of the summer (her sophomore year)," Arseth said. "That's where it all started. It started with me just going there and wanting to learn about my mom's culture, swimming with the local swim team, making some friends on the team. Little did I know that in that competition there were people watching that a little down the road would ask `Are you interested in representing Mauritius?'"
Arseth transferred to UM for the 2013 school year after two years at Iowa.
"(Iowa) wasn't really the right fit for me," Arseth said. "The Big Ten has this rule where if you transfer in the Big Ten you lose a year of eligibility, so the Big Ten was off the docket. That's all I dreamed of swimming for was the Big 10 when I was little. ... I had to expand my horizons a little bit and the ACC was really appealing to me. I looked here, Duke, Villanova, took some visits and eventually decided after my visits this was the best fit for me. ... Everything happens for a reason."
Arseth previously competed in the 2012 London Olympics for her native country. That year she finished 34th in the 200-meter freestyle heats and failed to reach the semifinals.
“It is my second time in the Olympics, so I have a better idea of what to expect,” Arseth said. “It doesn’t take away from the excitement and the anticipation leading up to it. I’m definitely very excited to represent Mauritius, and it’ll be my first time representing The U, and that’s something I’m looking forward to.”
She competed in the 200-meter freestyle in 2012.
“In London, during my first time at the Olympics, I was only 18 years old and I felt like I had a lot riding on my shoulders,” Arseth said. “I still feel that way, but I think I can manage the stress and the pressure a little better because I know what to expect.”
Arseth has a family history in the Olympics: Her grandfather previously competed in body building way back when.
"It was a while ago, was a big dream of his to see one of his grandkids represent Mauritius," Arseth said. "I'm glad I can carry on his legacy."
In the end, the three Cane competitors at the Olympics might be representing different countries, but they're also representing one college.
"It's a real honor to represent UM," Dorman said.