Senior staff writer
Greenwood’s Zachary Cooper had one goal in mind last month after competing in the U.S. Olympic trials at the Indiana University Natatorium at IUPUI.
“I just want to work as hard as I can to catch up to the big guys,” Cooper said after finishing third in synchronized diving with RipFest Diving Club teammate Max Showalter and seventh in individual 10-meter platform diving.
The “big guys” that Cooper referred to were 2016 Olympic-bound divers David Boudia of Noblesville and synchronize partner and individual platform runner-up Steele Johnson of Carmel.
“I was impressed with how calm and composed they were and how they were focused all the time,” Cooper said. “They were always on camera all the time, always being followed. They handled that very well and were able to stay on track with their diving.”
His long-term goal is to qualify for the 2020 Olympics. His path begins anew Friday when competing on a six-member team from the United States in the FINA Grand Prix competition in Bolzano, Italy.
Cooper, 18, qualified for the Italian meet with a fifth-place finish last year at the USA Diving Winter National Championships, also held at the natatorium. RipFest coach John Wingfield is one of the American team coaches in Italy.
The eight-year veteran diver made his international debut in 2014 and represented the United States at the 2015 Pan American Games.
He left the natatorium after the trials more determined than ever after dropping from fourth to seventh on the last day of individual platform competition.
“I feel like I could have done a lot better,” the Olympic hopeful said. “I need to relax and make sure nothing distracts me whatsoever. I’m going to work so much harder these next few years. I have new dives to learn, entry work to do and more springboard work.”
Cooper’s first dive, an inward 3 1/2, was his best one in the finals, scoring 76.80 points, but he never earned more than 64 points on any of his next five dives from the 10-meter platform.
Cooper and Showalter were a consistent third-place team in each round of synchronized platform diving.
“It (the trials) is going to help me a lot,” Cooper said. “Just competing against all those divers makes me want to work that much harder to catch up with them. Going into it I knew I would gain a lot of experience, but I really wanted to do my best and see how far I could get. I gained a ton of experience.”
Cooper, who is home-schooled, has a long list of impressive results as a competitor at the regional USA Diving Junior Open, the 2016 All-Star Invitational men’s platform and 2014 USA Diving Junior Nationals synchro and platform championships and AT&T National Diving junior platform competition, where he finished second.
Cooper looked ahead to the competition in Italy this weekend without changing his approach. “Each dive is a new attempt for me. I try not to get excited or disappointed about a dive. I just try to keep going at the pace I need.”
He is the son of Bradley and Lesley Cooper and has a younger brother, Jacob.