Next time he competes, someone should pop him in the nose and keep him out of warmups.
Dominic Roberto, 10, of Solon, was sitting on the pool deck watching his fellow 11-and-under boys get ready for the 5-meter platform semifinals during the USA Diving National Championships Aug. 7 in Moultrie, Ga.
The platform was his best shot at qualifying for finals during the two-week meet, and poor Roberto was busy icing his bloody sniffer.
“I busted my nose,” Roberto said. “I was doing a double-tuck in the foam pit, and then my knee just came up and busted my nose.”
Making his third trip to the national competition as a member of the American Flyers Diving team, based out of Solon, Roberto was practicing his routines during dryland that day. And when he popped his nose, a small river of red covered his chest and flowed all the way down to his feet.
“He comes out, and he’s holding his nose, and there’s blood all over, and it’s dripping all over, and I’m like, ‘Get out of the foam pit!’” head coach Marc Cahalane said. “And we had to get all the foam blocks with blood on them and pull them out, and there was a big stain on the carpet. It was bad. But I firmly believe weird things happen for a reason.”
Last year, Roberto finished 17th in the platform event, missing out on finals by five spots.
With somersaulting from 16 feet in the air and hitting the water at 22 mph already posing a difficult enough task under normal circumstances for young divers, Roberto was figuring to scratch from the competition, he said.
“At first, I was not going to dive,” he said. “I mean, I was scared, but I also thought that platform is my best chance of making it to finals, and I didn’t want to give up on that.”
Coach Cahalane said he tried to turn the situation into a positive by telling his young diver to skip warmups and look at it as an advantage in terms of not expending energy.
Watching some of the other 11-and-under boys crash and bomb some of their practice dives also reminded Roberto that his tough competitors from across the country are indeed human, which helped renew his confidence.
“And I think him sitting there and watching and suddenly thinking, ‘Oh, my God. What if I’m not in this event? What if I can’t dive in this event?’” Cahalane said. “And it gave him the fight that he needed that, if you take something away from somebody, all of the sudden they want it more.
“At that point, I told him, as long as you have the right state of mind, I don’t care what happened to your nose. It won’t matter.”
During his first of three voluntary dives, or required dives that stick with competitors through the finals, Roberto scored 6 1/2's from the judges on his forward 1 1/2 somersault tuck, which came out to 31.2 points after the degree of difficulty was figured in.
That tally was sixth best among 27 divers in the opening round of the semifinals. Only the top 12 boys would advance to the finals after five dives.
“When I’m practicing and I go up to the platform, that’s always my get-in dive,” Roberto said. “So it’s always a good idea to start with it as the first dive on my list. I actually felt pretty good. To start off with a 30-pointer, I was pretty successful with that.”
Next up was his inward 1 1/2 somersault tuck, which Roberto ripped for 44 points – the best score of the second round.
While Roberto’s mechanics have always been solid enough to find vertical entries, his increased arm and shoulder strength has opened the door for his scores to skyrocket during the past year, Cahalane said.
“He’s learned to rip,” the coach said. “He’s hitting the water, and he’s not only not making any splash, but he’s actually now able to rip, which is making the sound and pretty much disappearing when making the tear sound.”
The tearing sound is the ultimate finish to a dive, Cahalane said.
“They also call it the mind eraser, because, when you hit the water and make that sound, it’s the last thing that judges see, and it erases their mind from whatever happened up here, because they just saw this amazing entry,” he said. “So then they cue in on that.”
Roberto was able to go on and execute his third voluntary, a reverse dive tuck, and two optional dives, a forward 2 1/2 somersault tuck and a back 1 1/2 somersault with a half free twist, to earn 167.90 points from his list to finish sixth and move onto finals.
At that point, after overcoming a busted nose, Roberto had a worry-free attitude.
“I was like, I don’t even care where I end up, like if I get last or whatever,” Roberto said.
Carrying over 106.4 points from his three voluntary dives of the semifinals, Roberto actually had a 3.7-point lead on his nearest competition heading the finals, when divers perform just their two optional dives.
On his back 1 1/2 somersault with a half free twist, Roberto bettered his semifinal score by 3.15 points. But then, during his second optional dive, he decided to replace a forward 2 1/2 tuck with an inward double tuck – raising the degree of difficulty from a 2.4 to a 2.8.
“My front 2 1/2 is a little bit slow on the kick-out, so I knew I was going to do better with the inward double,” Roberto said. “The foot entry can be a little bit lower score, but it’s a higher DD. And it’s also like a blind entry. You can’t really see anything. You just have to kick out.”
Divers have to be a little crazy to do an inward double, Cahalane said. But, after scoring just 30 points on his front 2 1/2 tuck in semifinals, it was a gamble Roberto needed to take, the coach said.
“In warmups, he went sailing over. Like he went way over,” Cahalane said. “And I think we just got the right one out of the way. Then the one he did in the meet was probably the best one I’ve ever seen him do.”
Scoring 44.8 points – the highest of the round – Roberto catapulted himself into first place with just a few divers to go.
Coming out of the water, Roberto said he had no idea he was in medal contention.
“No. I just hit the dive. I’m proud of myself,” he said. “Everyone on the team, they were on the pool deck, and they were like, ‘Dom, you’re in first.’ And I was like, ‘Wait, let me see.’ And there was this one kid after me, Finnian (Gelbach), he needed 60 points on an inward 1 1/2, which is like 10s, which he probably wasn’t going to get.”
Bettering his semifinal score by 18 points, Roberto finished his five-dive list with 185.85 points to capture the gold medal and national title on the platform, edging his nearest competition, 11-year-old Austin Hibler, of New York, by 4.05 points.
“I was actually really happy, but I don’t think I could have done it without great coaches, great teammates,” said Roberto, who credited Mitch Caldwell, 8, of Solon, for pushing him in practice.
Roberto and Caldwell, who finished 14th on the 11-and-under platform, were among 14 American Flyers who qualified for nationals.
A three-event qualifier, Roberto also finished 14th on the 1-meter springboard with a six-dive score of 181.4 and 16th on the 3-meter springboard with a six-dive score of 189.90.
But it was the crazy feeling of standing atop that awards podium with a gold medal in the platform competition that had a busted-nose Roberto in a loop for days.
“Over the next few days, I’m like, ‘I won the whole thing?’” Roberto said. “Like, ‘I’m the best in the United States?’”
His dad, Mike, said, “Yeah, you won the whole thing. And the next day, ‘So, is that it?’ Yeah, that’s it.’”