Urbana High School rising senior Lydia Lehnert could have been on her way to Seattle this weekend.
In December she and her women's synchronized 10-meter platform diving partner, Cierra Mantz of Washington, D.C., finished eighth at the 2011 Winter Nationals in Tennessee to earn the right to compete at the 2012 U.S. Olympic Team Trials for diving, scheduled for June 17-24.
But the U.S. did not have any teams finish high enough at the World Championships in February to earn a slot in the women's synchronized diving competition at this summer's London Olympics, so Lehnert opted out of the extra trip. The competition would have been purely exhibition.
Though disappointed, Lehnert, who was third in the girls 16-18 1-meter and fourth in the 3-meter at the 2012 USA Diving Summer Junior Region 2 Championships in New York last weekend, said she isn't too upset.
“The U.S. hasn't really concentrated on synchro very much. But I think after this, since we didn't get a place this year, there will be a big push. And I'd like to be involved in that,” Lehnert said.
In the meantime, the 10-meter platform specialist said she is eager to improve her skills on the springboard to become a better all-around diver in the hopes of earning an athletic scholarship to a top diving program in 2013-14. There, she said, she could continue honing her skills in a highly competitive atmosphere while pursuing Olympic dreams.
After all, the 5-foot-2 former gymnast only has been diving competitively at the national level for a year. And she and Mantz were thrown together at random only last summer.
As a gymnast for 10 years, Lehnert always was taught to land on her feet at all costs. That was the hardest habit to break when she joined the Frederick Area Divers summer league team in the summer of 2009 after chronic tendinitis in her Achilles tendon forced her to leave the gymnastics. Diving was an obvious choice for someone who already had fantastic body control and could twist and turn in the air. Landing in the water, she said, is much more forgiving on the body than landing on gymnastics mats.
“The easiest thing was getting used to flipping off the board. I was used to flipping,” Lehnert said. “One of the biggest adjustments was learning how to land on my head because that's not normal in gymnastics.”
The transition from gymnastics to diving is not an uncommon one. But Lehnert made hers with seeming ease.
Less than two years after first propelling herself off a springboard, Lehnert was the Frederick County girls diving champion as a sophomore in the winter of 2010. Three-hour practices six days per week with the Montgomery Dive Club in Germantown forced Lehnert out of high school diving this past winter.
Lehnert said she missed the team atmosphere and camaraderie among all the county divers, but the sacrifice paid off. Just 19 months after officially dedicating herself to her new endeavor, Lehnert has ascended to the upper echelon of diving in the country.
“[Lehnert] is a very fast learner,” said Frederick Area Divers coach and former Linganore High diver John Henderson, who works with athletes from Oakdale, Linganore, Walkersville and Catoctin during the high school season. “Gymnasts, they are so driven in gymnastics practices that when they come to diving they have an extremely high work ethic. They come with that mentality that they are going to win no matter what and that is what I saw with Lydia. She was so determined to get better. Every time I saw her she was working hard and improving.”
Lehnert earned a top-20 finish in the individual platform competition in Tennessee as well as several other top-10 finishes at the senior level, including ninth place at the Hobie International Invite in Indiana over the winter.
Still, she is not above returning to where it all got started. Lehnert said she is eager to rejoin her Frederick Area Divers teammates this summer.
Having her around, Henderson said, is a big boost for county diving.
“I can't say enough about the fact that she comes back,” he said. “She definitely doesn't need to. She's made it to the [top level]. But it's great for the sport when somebody that good, somebody that humble who doesn't have a chip on her shoulder, comes back. And she is good enough that she has every right to walk around with a chip on her shoulder. I don't even know if she realizes how much of an impact she has. Those kids put her up on a pedestal, even if they don't act that way. They're blown away.”
Lehnert might be short a trip to the Olympic Trials this summer, but it's nothing she's too worried about. It actually might be a blessing in disguise.
“I'm not too disappointed,” she said. “I know I have to get a better springboard list for college. I will have another chance for Olympic Trials. Divers don't usually peak until 25. Right now I'm just excited to go to summer nationals and show how far I've come.”