For Nick McCrory and Abby Johnston, D stands for two things above all others Duke and diving.
Both Blue Devils are strong contenders to make the U.S. Olympic diving team in either one or two events apiece at their Olympic Trials, which begin Sunday in Federal Way, Wash., and continue for a week.
Both would like to go to medical school and become doctors. Both took at least a full semester off from Duke to prepare for the 2012 Olympics. And both believe that performing acrobatics in the air is freeing, not fear-inducing.
McCrory is the laid-back one with the scary task of diving from a platform 10 meters (33 feet) high. He changed sports as a kid from swimming to diving. He grew up in Chapel Hill, says he was a UNC fan before I knew any better and then changed his favorite shade of blue to a darker variety once he went to Duke.
Johnston is the gregarious one who dives from the three-meter (10 feet) springboard and who changed sports from gymnastics to diving.
She grew up in Columbus, Ohio, and moved to Durham on her own before her senior year of high school, taking online classes so she could continue to train under the coach who still directs her workouts.
That coach is Drew Johansen, who left a club team in Ohio to become Dukes diving coach in 2007. He also coaches McCrory and believes both athletes have a great chance to represent their country in London.
Both Nick and Abby are ranked in the top 10 in the world, said Johansen, who is also a national-team coach for the U.S. They are definitely two of Americas brightest hopes not only to make the Olympic team but also to make the podium (which requires a top-3 finish) at the Olympics.
And Johansen has one more wild card to throw into the mix at these Olympic Trials, too. Gracia Leydon-Mahoney is only 15, but she is a skilled platform diver and has an outside shot at the Olympics as well. Leydon-Mahoney recently moved to the Durham area from Massachusetts, in part to train under Johansen.
Laid-back and relaxed
McCrory, 20, says he grew up in a divided house in Chapel Hill. My dad went to Duke [and is now a doctor], McCrory said. My mom went to UNC. So Ive kind of learned to keep my mouth shut during basketball season.
When McCrory was 8, he was in a swim program.
Every day Id see the divers at the other end of the pool, and it just seemed like so much more fun than what I was doing, he said. So eventually, after bugging my mom, I tried out.
McCrory was good enough that at the last Olympic Trials, in 2008, he came close to making the U.S. team. He is a specialist in divings most daring event, hurtling toward the water from basically the top of a three-story building at speeds approaching 35 mph on entry.
Platform dives are so hard on the body that divers rarely practice them two days in a row and usually only do 20-25 per day.
It definitely takes a toll, mostly on your wrists and shoulders, McCrory said.
McCrory will compete individually on the 10-meter board at the Olympic Trials and also in the synchronized diving event, where his partner is David Boudia. The teammates have far different personalities. Boudia likes to keep everything ultra-organized and even takes his own pillow everywhere he goes to ensure a good nights sleep.
Hes laid-back and very relaxed, said Boudia, who attends Purdue but sometimes goes to Duke for joint training sessions with McCrory. Im a lot more structured and like to plan everything out. Weve got a good dynamic going.
Only one synchronized diving team will be taken to London, so Boudia and McCrory will have to win as a pair to go. Two divers will qualify from the individual event.
Dancing around the pool
Johnston, 22, has been coached by Johansen since she was 12. He asked her when she was 14 if she wanted to go to the Olympics and said that if she worked hard enough, she would make it.
Like McCrory, she has been an NCAA champion at Duke. Unlike him, you will sometimes find Johnston dancing around the pool between dives at practice.
Nick is very mellow, Johnston said. Hes very level-headed in everything he does and deliberate with everything he says. Im a little more outgoing, a little more enthusiastic - a little goofier.
Johnston will compete in the womens 3-meter event both individually and in the synchronized event with partner Kelci Bryant, who was an Olympian in 2008.
Johnston gave up gymnastics at age 12 due to a back injury, found diving and never left. I love competing, and I love performing, Johnston said. I also love that diving is a sport that you can never be perfect at, that its more about the illusion of perfection. There are always new things to learn. And flipping through the air is a very freeing feeling.
Both McCrory and Johnston will return to Duke and a full course load in the fall, no matter what happens with the Olympics. If they do make it to the Olympic Games, they will have to contend with the Chinese divers who usually dominate the sport on a worldwide level.
Ultimately, though, its back to Durham, classes and then - they hope - medical school.
When asked what his goal is for Olympic Trials, McCrory offered a generality rather than a specific. To leave happy, he said. To go out there and do my best.
To do that, both Duke divers will have to succeed in that freighted moment right before the dive, when they go to the edge of the board and prepare themselves. Its a moment anyone who has ever tried something new on a diving board can remember.
A deep breath. A gathering. And then, a leap into the unknown.
Scott Fowler: 704-358-5140; email@example.com; Twitter:@scott_fowler