MIDLAND, Texas (KMID/KPEJ) – USA Diving has come to West Texas.
More than 600 divers from all over the country are in Midland for the USA Diving U.S. Open and Junior National Championships.
It’s a big couple of weeks for U.S. Open divers as this competition is an early step on the path to potentially competing in the 2024 Paris Olympics.
The top performers in the Junior National Championships, age groups 14-15 and 16-18, will be selected to represent the United States in the upcoming 2022 FINA Junior World Championships.
For the older age group in the U.S. Open, they have a chance to post a qualifying score for the Fall FINA Grand Prix diving events and Winter Nationals.
It’s also an important stretch for the event’s host, COM Aquatics in Midland.
“It’s a great event for Midland, probably the biggest revenue generator in the last few years,” said COM Aquatics President and Executive Director Brad Swendig.
“For our club it’s a big deal. It’s a chance for our kids, our team, to see the best, see what they’re working for.”
The only privately owned indoor Olympic diving facility in the country, COM Aquatics has invested heavily in local divers.
In fact, COM Aquatics has to shut down normal business for two weeks in order to have their own diving club team host USA Diving championships.
However, the cost is well worth it as competing at home has its advantages.
“You know how it’s going to be. You know your way around and you’re not confused in which way to go,” said 10-year-old Paxtyn Gould who is on the COM Diving club team.
Gould is competing in the Junior National Championships.
“I think it’s a lot more fun at your home pool.”
Diving coaches who have been in West Texas for years like Jennifer Mangum have seen the sport gradually blossom locally culminating in Midland hosting national events.
She says hosting these events could help diving spread in Midland even more.
“We have a lot more support from the community and certainly our parent booster club than we had back when I first started here,” said Mangum who coaches the COM Diving club team.
“Success breeds success. As we get more successful, then we get more kids coming in trying out for the team.”
The best 18-and-under divers in country, some on their way to the Olympics, have to come to Midland to truly see how they stack up against the elite.
“Some of the young kids are going to remember COM [Aquatics] being one of their first big national meets,” said COM diver Sammantha Helmboldt who will compete in the Junior and U.S. Open Championships.
She also competes on the COM Diving club team.
“I think that’s super cool because when they grow up and when they go to the Olympics they are like, ‘Oh, my first nationals was in Midland, Texas. Where is Midland, Texas? What’s Midland, Texas?”
“A lot of people at zones [previous competitions] were like, ‘Oh, my gosh, I don’t want to go to Midland to the middle of nowhere, to the middle of a desert,” said 10-year-old Josephine Austin who is on the COM Diving club team.
“Just seeing all the people, like having fun and doing all that adds and ripping almost all of them is amazing.”