Olympic bound 

The old Central State Hospital just west of downtown Indianapolis hasn't housed patients since 1994.

Windows in the nondescript brick buildings are busted, desk materials remain in some of the offices and the lawn on the more than 200-acre lot is patchy and hard.

No signs mark the entrance off Warman Street to the hospital, which opened in 1848, and a small "No Trespassing" sign greets whoever finds the property.

But on the south side of the hospital site, inside a building formerly used as a dormitory and recreation center, classical piano music fit for a ballet performance blares, giving life to the vacancy.

Inside, Olympian diver Thomas Finchum, 6 feet 1 inch tall, stands next to Brooke Schultz, about half his size, on a spring floor fit for a gymnastics competition. They are in the leased space used as the national training center for the USA Diving team.

Above them, paint is peeling off high walls, and at the other end of the room, water is leaking through the ceiling.

The brightly lit room feels dank and smells of sweat and mildew.

Together, Finchum, 19, and Schultz, 10, glide across the floor and leap in unison three times.

The next pair of athletes follows them.

They are training to be the best divers in the world, and ballet in the old Central State Hospital is just one part of their 40-hour a week training schedule.

It's where they go throughout the year to work on perfecting their body control and ability to perfectly flip, grab their ankles and twirl their bodies in a few eye blinks for a sport most of the world only pays attention to every four years.

It's a peculiar scene - an Olympian with an endorsement from Speedo training with athletes half his age in a place that used to be called the Indiana Hospital for the Insane.

The scene at the old hospital represents a slice of U.S. diving, being developed in Indianapolis in an obscure location for a fringe sport. The scene also represents a lifestyle and daily schedule unique to any other sport or child's day, and the rise of a few Hoosier divers who have helped create a record-making year.

Now, the Americans, who have historically dominated the sport of diving, will look to reclaim their place from China as the premier country for diving.

And the charge to knock the Chinese off the top of the mountain will take place here, in the Circle City.

A rebirth

On a Friday afternoon in late September, John Wingfield, the 2008 Beijing Olympics USA Diving Head Coach and head coach and director of the national training center in Indianapolis, is spending about three hours with his divers to work on minute fundamentals at the old hospital, including toe stretches, arm stretches and flips.

The USA Diving team has leased the space since 2000 for dry-land training, or training outside of the pool, when they aren't practicing at the world-class IUPUI Natatorium. In the room with bowed-wooden floors from water damage, they push their bodies to the limit.

The training center might not have the shine or sparkle of a new gymnasium, but it is solitary and quiet, giving Wingfield and his athletes the ability to train uninterrupted. After the Olympics are over every four years, the athletes retreat back to the hospital for year-round training, six days a week and with only two weeks off.

Wingfield, who also coached and taught at Ball State University for 10 years, likes having his athletes train in a bare-bones facility, which can drop to 50 degrees in the winter time with no heating system.

"I enjoy the struggle," Wingfield says.

The team will train at the old dormitory until June, when it and other buildings on the old hospital site will be razed for development. The national team will then move to a new training facility built by local Starz Diving Club, says Wingfield.

"We are certainly indebted to the city of Indianapolis for their great support for what we do at Central State," he says.

Under Wingfield, diving in the United States has experienced a bit of a rebirth, and two Hoosier boys have had a heavy hand in the renaissance.

Finchum, an Indianapolis southsider, and David Boudia, of Noblesville, won the silver medal in the 10-meter synchronized event at this summer's World Championships in Rome. Two other synchronized teams, including one with Mary Beth Dunnichay, 16, of Elwood, and individual diver Troy Dumais, also won medals, bringing the total count for the United States to four, which was the most the U.S. had won at the competition since 1991.

"It was really a good performance, and it was really important after just narrowly missing out on medals in Beijing," says Steve Foley, USA Diving High Performance Director, who recently came on board with the United States team after working with the Australian and British national teams.

At the Beijing games, Finchum and Boudia were four points from getting on the medal podium. They finished in fifth place. The results were disappointing for the pair - and for Wingfield, who expected a medal in the synchronized event.

An American diver or synchronized team hasn't won an Olympic medal since the Sydney Games in 2000, when Laura Wilkinson won gold in the individual 10-meter dive.

Boudia and Finchum both say they try not to dwell on the results.

"You want to move on. You don't want that hanging over your head," Boudia says. "It will affect your training, but you definitely use that as motivation, because we saw how close we were."

Although the United States team didn't compete in the medal count, the team's overall results throughout the competition were only second to China, which was a vast improvement from where the sport was about 10 years ago, says Wingfield.

More successful together than apart

When Wingfield started working with USA Diving in 1998, the country was around the fifth or sixth best in the world and not near the top of the sport as the country typically had been.

Wingfield points to Finchum's performance as a 13-year-old at the 2004 FINA Grand Prix meet in Russia as the launching pad for change in American diving, ushering in a new era of young divers.

Competing against the best divers in the world at the time, Finchum, new to the international scene, won a silver medal in the 10-meter event.

"I felt like I got a lot of media attention, and they were saying 'maybe he's the next Greg Louganis.' That's something that is really cool. It's a lot to live up to, and I just kind of put that behind me and tried to reach my goals," Finchum says.

Since then, he and Boudia have been more successful together than apart. Since 2006, they have accounted for 14 international synchronized medals, including two gold medals.

"Over the past decade, obviously those boys have come on the scene and pushed some limits, and I think that pushes the rest of the country and some of the other programs," Wingfield says.

They earned their successes so far by training with Wingfield from ages 9 and 10 and throughout their middle school and high school years. Both moved from public schools to home schooling toward the end of their high school careers - Finchum at Lutheran High School and Boudia at Noblesville High School - to focus on training for the Olympics.

Now, the two are veterans of the sport. Boudia dives for Purdue University, and Finchum opted to stay in Indianapolis and forgo the college route. He takes classes online at IUPUI, but dedicates his life currently to being a professional athlete.

"When (Finchum) graduates college, he'll probably be a two-time Olympian with a couple of gold medals and about a quarter of a million dollars if he does it right," Wingfield says.

The younger divers look to them for advice and watch how they practice every day.

Finchum speaks of the younger divers like he is an elder at 19, amazed by the adrenaline of his youthful counterparts.

"I remember having that much energy," Finchum says.

Boudia, 20, also has a seasoned view on the sport he has spent a decade trying to master.

"I've (thought) many times and I've questioned, 'Do I want to keep doing this and putting my body through this?' And the reality is I do. I want to accomplish my goals," Boudia says.

Finchum also questioned the grind of 40-hour training weeks after getting back from the Olympics with no medals.

"I was disappointed and was like, 'I wonder what it would be like to be a normal kid'," Finchum says.

But the silver medal performance at the World Championships in August ended those thoughts.

"It kind of lit that fire again," Finchum says. "Why give it up now?"

The performance at the most recent Olympics shows the potential of the U.S. team and the potential for the two to meet their goals, Foley says. The group is young, too. The Beijing Games were the first for 10 of the 12 divers on the team.

"When you're that close to medals, you know you're right up there with the world's best," Foley adds.

"Details. Details. Details."

Back in the old Central State Hospital, about a dozen divers stand on their heads as Wingfield walks around checking their posture and body language.

A trashcan catches rain dripping from the ceiling, and the divers' legs start to shake as they hold them straight as a board.

His instructions are specific: Keep the belly tight, knees together and toes pointed upward.

"Details. Details. Details. Details make champions," Wingfield tells them.

They move on to a drill where they lay on their backs and jolt their bodies up in a V-shape, bringing their nose to their legs and holding the position for several seconds.

Each drill is a practice in body control and precision.

They don't have someone to pass the ball to in practice. They don't have an obvious target to hit or basket to make.

They have only their bodies to work with, and Wingfield notices every mistake with the way they hold their arms, point their fingers or curve their spine.

"Your index finger should be pointing down the center of the kneecap," Wingfield tells them.

Then he urges them to squeeze in their buttocks through the hip line.

"It's a small area of weakness we have," Wingfield tells the divers.

At the pool, he gives detailed feedback as well.

"Turn the palms back. Squeeze the hands."

"Good, Thomas. The only thing I'd do is put the head alignment back in the dive."

He asks Finchum at the training center to demonstrate to the rest of the divers the right way to land a front flip on a mat in what is called pit form drills. Finchum trots up to the three-foot tall mat and does a front flip.

He flips once quickly and lands on his back forcefully. The slap of his body against the mat echoes throughout the old dormitory. He lands with his legs straight, nearly parallel to his torso, and unwavering, like he has taken the form of tweezers.

"When you land, your knees need to be on your face," Wingfield tells the divers.

The instruction is somewhat absurd - asking teenagers to be flexible enough to have their knees touch their face - but is a necessary aspect of the sport.

"Diving is complete body control. Once you master that, it's all downhill," Boudia says. "You're learning new dives somewhat, but it's really perfecting those dives and those details. Details are key when it comes to being the best."

The details are what judges look for in a competition, too, Foley says. For a sport with an abstract goal of contorting the body in difficult positions with sharp angles, penalizing a diver for not pointing his or her hands the right way seems somewhat unfair.

"You jump off that 10-meter tower and you've got 1.7 seconds to put all those unbelievable flips and movements and if at some point in all that, your feet come apart, you're penalized," Foley says.

The sport is also at the whim of the judges. Like a baseball pitcher, divers have to hope the judges see a strike as opposed to a ball.

"It's a political sport. It's by judges. You can never really control the outcome, so you have to go in there and do your best and that's the best you can do," Finchum says.

Wingfield trains his divers to perform with poise and consistency before they reach the diving board.

His athletes have their dives choreographed from the time they can be seen on the pool deck until they walk up the diving ladder, jump and hit the water. He wants judges to take notice of them standing on the tower. He wants subconscious points from the judges before they should technically start marking scores.

That's where ballet comes in.

They spend a few hours a week on ballet to learn how to maintain body control when moving, but most importantly, how to demand attention from the judges, Wingfield explains. The ballet allows the athletes to become more comfortable performing in front of their peers, which makes them at ease performing in front of an audience.

"They lose some of their inhibitions," Wingfield says. "It reflects their body control, body performance and their ability to perform. There is an 'it' factor. It's something beyond their athleticism."

Ultimate goal

Finchum and Boudia train separately now. Finchum trains at the old hospital, and Boudia now spends most of his time training at Purdue, but will still come down and work at the old hospital during breaks or the summer.

Although they aren't training side-by-side anymore, their shared goal is still the same: Olympic medals.

And the goal is the same for Wingfield and the national team.

"My ultimate job is to make Olympic medals," Wingfield says.

He and Foley are looking to change the way the diving program is structured, so they are better organized with the club and collegiate level to share resources and ideas.

They know they can continue inching closer to China, which currently has a strong hold on the sport. The Chinese have dominated the sport since the 1992 Olympics, Wingfield says. They have also dominated the most recent Olympics, racking up the most diving medals at the Beijing and Athens games. For example, the Chinese won seven of the eight possible gold medals at Beijing.

"China culturally lends itself to systematizing the sport," says Wingfield.

The country earned its dominance in the sport by centralizing the national training program into a systematic and uniform process, according to Wingfield. Divers as young as six can be plucked from their diving club or regional center and put in the national program, which means the athlete will live, eat, study and train at the national center throughout their diving career.

And the Chinese don't worry about funding issues for their sport, because it is funded by the government.

The American system will never resemble China's or ask parents to send their children to live and train at the national center, Foley says. But a concerted effort by USA Diving to become more organized and connected with collegiate and club teams and coaches will help American divers get the most out of the diving system.

"We want to tap into these great resources. If we combine that, we'll be competing with China," says Foley.

Finchum and Boudia know the training that needs to take place to get on the podium in 2012, but they also know the process will be grueling.

"I have struggled sometimes not wanting to get up in the morning to go to practice, but just the whole idea of going to the Olympics and having a chance to get a gold medal is what keeps me going," Finchum says.

Boudia thinks about getting an Olympic medal every day.

"It's got to be one of the most exhilarating feelings to be on top of the podium," he says.

So, the two will continue training. And Wingfield will continue molding younger divers into new Finchums and Boudias, just west of downtown Indianapolis.

The coach whose country's success in his sport rides on his shoulders will continue to tweak the system to find better ways to train his athletes. They will continue to practice chasse and pirouettes.

For now, they will continue to work in the old hospital with leaky ceilings and bowed floor panels. They will go on in the monotony of making sure their toes are pointed the right way, their arms swing at the right angle and their buttocks squeeze the right way and in line with their hips.

Their mission for Olympic medals, and their drive to reclaim their throne atop the diving world, will have its roots in the old Indiana Hospital for the Insane.

SIDEBAR: A closer look at the Central State Hospital

The USA Diving team splits training time between IUPUI's natatorium and the old Central State Hospital. Here are some interesting facts about the hospital:

- The city of Indianapolis purchased the hospital from the state for $400,000 and took possession of it in 2004. The Department of Metropolitan Development maintains the site.

- The city is currently looking to develop the property for commercial, residential or mixed uses.

- The building first opened as the Indiana Hospital for the Insane in November 1848. The hospital opened with five patients in one single building. By 1928, after the hospital's name changed to Central State Hospital, the hospital housed 3,000 people.

- In the late 1970s, most of the hospital's Victorian-era buildings were declared unsound and razed. They were replaced with brick buildings.

- The Pathology Department of the hospital is now used by the Indiana Medical History Museum.

- The USA Diving Team uses one of the old dormitory buildings on the south end of the property for training.

- The hospital closed in 1994.

SOURCES: The Indiana Medical History Museum; John Bartholomew, public information officer for the city's Department of Metropolitan Development

Getting to know the team

The Wingfield File

Who: John Wingfield

Who: Head coach of the 2008 U.S. Olympic diving team and director and head coach of USA Diving's National Training Center in Indianapolis since 2005.

Age: 46

Birthplace/ Hometown: Greensburg, Pa./ New Stanton, Pa.

Education: Bachelor's of science degrees in management information systems and health and physical education; master's degree in sports science from Indiana University of Pennsylvania

Coaching history: Selected as diving coach for the World Championship and Pan American Games teams, as well as several Grand Prix and World Series events, in 2007. Coached and taught at Ball State University from 1989 to 1998 before starting his work with USA Diving.

Accomplishments: Named United States Olympic Committee Coach of the Year for diving in 2006, 2007 and 2008.

Roster of divers who train full time in Indianapolis:

Thomas Finchum*

Age: 20

Hometown: Indianapolis

David Boudia*

Age: 20

Hometown: Noblesville

Mary Beth Dunnichay*

Age: 16

Hometown: Elwood

Steele Johnson

Age: 13

Hometown: Carmel

Dashiell Enos

Age: 12

Hometown: Indianapolis

Sarah Bacon

Age: 13

Hometown: Indianapolis

Brooke Madden

Age: 11

Hometown: Richmond

Zach Cooper

Age: 11

Hometown: Franklin

Jake Shinaver

Age: 11

Hometown: Carmel

Jessica Parratto

Age: 15

Hometown: Dover, NH

Candice Minette

Age: 22

Hometown: Glendale, AZ

Toby Stanley

Age: 17

Hometown: Conway, AR

* Denotes 2008 Olympic team member

A day in the life

Elite divers at the USA Diving National Training Center train 40 to 45 hours a week. Here is a look at an example of one week's worth of training for the team:

Monday

7:30 a.m. - 10 a.m.: Technique and belts

10:45 a.m. - 1:30 p.m.: Pool training

2 p.m. - 3:30 p.m.: Weights and conditioning

Tuesday

7:30 a.m. - 10 a.m.: Technique and belts

10:15 a.m. - 11:30 a.m.: Ballet

12:30 p.m. - 3:30 p.m.: Pool training

Wednesday

9 a.m. - 10:15 a.m.: Training out of the pool

11 a.m. - 1:30 p.m.: Pool training

2 p.m. - 3 p.m.: Pilates

3 p.m. - 3:30 p.m.: Aerobics

Thursday

7:30 a.m. - 10 a.m.: Technique and belts

10:45 a.m. - 1:30 p.m.: Pool training

2 p.m. - 3:30 p.m.: Weights and conditioning

Friday

7:30 a.m. - 9:30 a.m.: Technique and belts

9:30 a.m. - 10:45 a.m.: Ballet

11:30 a.m. - 2:15 p.m.: Pool training

2:30 p.m. - 3:30 p.m.: Pilates

Saturday

8 a.m. - noon: Pool training and weights

Darby Schultz sits on the pool deck of IUPUI's natatorium, videotaping her 10-year-old daughter, Brooke, practicing dives.

The young diver is hesitant to jump off the board with her back to the water.

Her mother urges her on.

After all, diving is in the girl's blood.

Darby Schultz was a collegiate diver at Purdue University, and her husband, Dale Schultz, dove at the University of Maine and has been the head diving coach at the University of Arkansas for about a dozen years.

John Wingfield, the head coach and director of the national training center in Indianapolis, patiently works with the 10-year-old to get her into the water.

"OK, in 3-2-1 go," says Wingfield.

She won't budge, so she settles for rolling back by grabbing her knees and falling backwards.

She has only been diving for a year after making the transition from gymnastics. Already, at 10, she has tested one sport and decided to focus on another.

Her family's dedication to train her as an elite diver comes with a sacrifice, much like other families whose children train in the sport.

They have to travel the 600-mile trip once a month from Fayetteville, Ark. to Indianapolis to let their daughter get training at the center for at least one week out of every month.

"A lot of little girls have big dreams. It's another thing to make the sacrifice and put in the work," Darby Schultz says.

The sport is unique in how it produces its best athletes. The divers start out young, usually between 10 and 12, and dedicate their weekdays to training and schooling.

The athletes typically home school and train 40 to 45 hours a week at the national training center in Indianapolis. As young teenagers, they virtually have full-time jobs: working out.

Instead of algebra at 1 p.m., they have pilates. Instead of gym class at the start of school, they are learning front and back flips with Olympic divers.

"I spend more time with them than their parents do," Wingfield says.

The top synchronized divers, David Boudia and Thomas Finchum, both led the same lifestyles growing up. They balanced school work with training throughout the week until they both switched to home schooling midway through their high school careers to focus on the 2008 Olympics.

"I had to grow up really fast and mature. Just competing internationally, you have to be mature. You go across the world and half the time my parents wouldn't come with me, and I had to go over there and take care of myself," Finchum says.

The dedication to the sport also fosters a special bond between coach and diver.

"I've known [Coach Wingfield] since I was 9, so he's like a coach and role model and father figure to me," Finchum says.

The athletes at the training center in Indianapolis have to grow up quickly, learning time management and responsibility, notes Wingfield.

"I think you do grow up a little differently, because not every person has this type of schedule that an elite athlete does," says Boudia.

Despite Boudia's time spent in the pool as a young teen, he doesn't feel his childhood was negatively affected. He was still able to attend high school until his sophomore year and be a part of the typical high school scene: football games, homecoming events and dances.

"It was kind of like I was still in high school. My time wasn't as open, but I still got to enjoy all those moments," Boudia says.

Comments

Readers also liked…

Around the Web

This Week's Flyers

About The Author

Kate Yeiser

More by Kate Yeiser

Today's Best Bets | All of today's events

Around the Web

All contents copyright © 2016 NUVO Inc.
3951 N. Meridian St., Suite 200, Indianapolis, IN 46208
Website powered by Foundation