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Like Walking a High Wire

Oct. 3, 2009

by Matt Winkeljohn
Managing Editor
OSR Sting EXTRA

ATLANTA – Fancy yourself in the role of Hannah Krimm, one of the most obscure yet battle-tested and successful athletes in recent Georgia Tech history.

You’re really good at what you do, earning All-America honors as a sophomore, yet you’re largely unknown to even the most ardent of Yellow Jackets fans. And you suffer, too, though not for this reason, but because…

Krimm’s a diver (yes, Tech has divers, and no, they don’t seek salvage), and that means psychological struggle is part of the game.

If you’re not traveling to Starkville, Miss, to watch the football team tonight, you can familiarize yourself with Krimm and her men’s and women’s swimming and diving teammates today as they open their 2009-10 season in a home meet versus Alabama, Georgia Southern, Florida Atlantic and Florida Gulf Coast.

It will be interesting, and perhaps foreign, to watch when soon after 1 p.m. in the Campus Recreation Center, she’ll walk out on the one- and three-meter boards, think about what she’s about to do, and then do it.

Or maybe she’ll try not to think, or think about not thinking, or…

You know, it’s hard to say what will be going on in her head, really, because unless you’ve been there and done that it’s nearly impossible to even pretend you know.

From the bleachers, diving looks like it’s all about tight tucks, somersaults and twists. And of course everybody knows you want a teeny, tiny splash when you enter the water.

What few can see, or possibly fully grasp, are the inner-cranial stresses.

Just as a top-notch computer may have a rock-solid (state) central processing unit, top athletes in some sports like diving may be better than their opponents chiefly by virtue of being stronger between the ears.

“I don’t know if I could really put a percentage on it, but it’s really important to be mentally fit,” Krimm said. “If you have any doubts about what you’re doing in a meet, it’s probably not going to go well.

“There are a ton of books out there about sports psychology. I’ve read some, mainly about golf. You kind of have to tap into other resources, like books. Definitely talking to a sports psychologist would be good for a diver.”

Don’t ask the next question. What purpose would that serve?

It seems obvious that it would benefit a diver to go beyond confident to arrogant, to treat every shortcoming as fluky happenstance rather than the result of operator error. A diver starts dwelling on his or her physical failures and, well, he or she may worry — subconsciously or otherwise — that it will happen again.

And reality undoubtedly sometimes grows out of what you fear it will be.

That’s a tough enough concept in a room alone by yourself. Imagine it when competing against others. Think that might qualify as a psychological accelerant?

“The big thing about diving, and it’s like this in swimming and track [among other sports] is there’s no defense [against opponents],” Krimm said. “You can’t get distracted by what they’re doing. If you have a bad dive, you can’t let it psyche you out. If you have great dive, you can’t get too excited.

“It is a constant back and forth between being focused and not being over-focused.”

So Krimm — who grew up in the Columbus, Ohio, suburb of Upper Arlington as the daughter of former Notre Dame (’78-’81) and New Orleans Saints defensive back John Krimm and his wife, Ann — tries to keep the magic beans that skitter across her brainpan bouncing in the right direction.

It’s not always easy.

As a junior, she finished fifth in the three- and one-meter competitions in the ACC championships, failing to qualify for the NCAAs where a year earlier she finished seventh and 15th, respectively.

That elevated her from recruited walk-on to scholarship student-athlete, but preceded a junior year she summarized thusly: “I didn’t do as well as anyone had hoped.”

Maybe that new scholarship created new pressures, a new standard of expectation. “I think maybe I got… I don’t know.”

Here Krimm, a high school cheerleader and diver, stops cold in her verbal tracks.

After a funky pause, there’s another question, and an answer given after being filtered through a diver’s screen that’s ever in place to seek a middle ground, at least psychologically.

Never mind that Krimm’s a senior, nor that her competitive diving career will likely end at the close of Tech’s amazingly long swimming and diving season in mid- to late March, nor that her last hoorah appears to set up as a stage for redemption.

“I haven’t thought too much about it,” Krimm said of possibly redeeming her junior season. “I’m trying not to put too much extra weight on this season because, like we were talking about, you try not to put too much pressure on yourself.”

Spoken like someone with the goal of graduating with a degree in… psychology.

Matt Winkeljohn is Managing Editor of Sting Extra OSR. Feel free to offer comments or story suggestions at gtstingx@gmail.com.

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