It seems fitting that diving phenom Kristian Ipsen tries hard not to make a splash.
Once featured in Sports Illustrated’s “Faces in the Crowd,” the humble 19-year-old has stood out in a crowd ever since, like it or not. In March as a freshman, he became the first Stanford diver in 82 years to win a national title. Even though Ipsen might return from his summer “vacation” as an Olympian, he enjoys being just another student-athlete on campus.
“I wouldn’t trade the experience for anything in the world, especially being at Stanford which is so amazing,” said Ipsen, the NCAA champion in the 3-meter and runner-up in the 1-meter. “I think ‘Oh, what I’m doing is pretty cool’ … but someone next to me could be a concert pianist and another person could be the smartest person with the highest SAT scores ever. It’s really motivating and really grounding so I’m just so happy to be where I am.”
This week, Ipsen is at the U.S. Olympic Team Trials for Diving in Federal Way, Wash., at the Weyerhaeuser King County Aquatic Center which also was the site of his NCAA win. Ipsen is competing in the men’s 3-meter springboard and the men’s synchronized three-meter springboard with partner Troy Dumais.
The preliminaries and semifinals for the men’s 3-meter synchronized springboard competition began Monday with the finals slated for Friday. The preliminaries and semifinals for the men’s 3-meter springboard are Wednesday, with the finals on Sunday. Only the two divers with the highest scores and the team with the highest cumulative score in the synchronized events will head to London.
The Golden State pairing of Dumais (Ventura, Calif.) and Ipsen (Clayton, Calif.) has been a successful one since 2009, when they won a national title in their first competition. Monday, they scored 876.00 points to lead the competition and move closer to an Olympic berth.
“I’ve always dreamed about it and it’s been kind of weird actually because I would watch Troy Dumais in the Olympics,” Ipsen said of the 2000, 2004 and 2008 Olympian. “Now we’re diving synchro together and we have a chance to make the Olympic team together and he was always somebody that I had looked up to. … Now I might be diving with him at the Olympics.”
Stanford diving coach Rick Schavone first laid eyes on the prodigious talent as a youngster, as Ipsen grew up in the eastern side of the San Francisco Bay area of California within driving distance of the campus.
Ipsen began diving at age 6 and became the youngest diver to final on all three boards at the junior national championships just two years later. He was dominant at the age group level and competitive at the 2008 Olympic Trials despite his youth.
“He was a phenom then; he really is a twisting genius,” Schavone said. “He could do twisting at the age of 8 better than people at age 18. He just had that cat-sense about him when you combine somersaulting with twisting and diving. That really jumped out at you as a coach because many divers have trouble with twisting moves.”
Ipsen dove with and against NCAA champions David Boudia (Purdue) and Nick McCrory (Duke) and 2008 Olympian Thomas Finchum, who teamed with Boudia in the Beijing Games. The 5-foot-7 Ipsen has unlimited talent and only now is starting to reach his potential, said USA Diving High Performance Director Steve Foley.
“Kristian has developed from an outstanding junior career to become a world-class international diver at the senior level and is poised to challenge for a spot on the 2012 Olympic Diving Team,” Foley said.
With an international travel schedule that would rival the most seasoned jet-setter, Ipsen found himself in Moscow and Tijuana just a couple weeks after the NCAA Men’s Swimming & Diving Championships.
He begrudgingly took off the spring quarter to focus on his Olympic dream, also transitioning from practicing with his Stanford teammates to training with former Cardinal diver Cassidy Krug, another Olympic hopeful.
Still, the reigning Pac-12 Freshman of the Year enjoyed taking the usual freshman introductory classes and plans on heading back to school for the fall quarter.
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“I’m excited to go back to school and I think I’m going to be focusing more on the sciences, maybe some biology stuff,” Ipsen said. “I’m also really interested in psychology, so we’ll see.”
Schavone noted that Stanford doesn’t admit student-athletes who haven’t shown the ability to succeed in the classroom and that Ipsen was a good student coming out of De La Salle High.
He said Ipsen’s parents — Kent and Yvette — have made an effort to keep him grounded. Instead of moving to the national training center in Indianapolis, he competed for his high school.
So Ipsen remains the down-to-earth California kid who in the summer months worked at his family’s restaurant, Skipolini’s Pizza.
“He’s an absolutely amazing kid; he’s just an easy-going, fun, nice, smiling kid who always wants to talk,” Schavone said. “He has a really well-rounded personality. You’d never get the inkling that he’s anything special, he really downplays that.”
That’s why perhaps the hardest part of the decision to take time off from his studies at Stanford was that Ipsen had to move out of his beloved dorm room because he was no longer enrolled in classes.
“It was really hard for me to leave because they had become my family over the last year,” he said. “That was really, really difficult, but I’ve gotten so much support from everyone. The athletic department there at Stanford has been really accommodating.”
According to the school, a Stanford male swimmer or diver has been at every Olympics since 1956. Schavone, who has been at the school since 1978, said Ipsen is the top diver he has ever coached there.
And what if Ipsen comes back to school as an Olympian, perhaps a decorated Olympian?
“I don’t think it would change anything about me going back to Stanford or anyone else’s views of me, because everyone at Stanford is so decorated in what they do,” Ipsen said. “There will probably be many Olympians, and hopefully I will be one of them, but I don’t think anyone would look at me differently.”
In addition to Krug, Stanford alum Dwight Dumais and incoming freshmen Lillian Hinrichs and Kelly Markle competed in the Trials. Stanford also boasts a number of swimmers competing at the 2012 U.S. Olympic Team Trials June 25-July 2 in Omaha, Neb. Several other swimmers with Stanford ties have already qualified to compete in London for their respective countries.