10 meters. 33 feet. A three-story building. Doesn’t matter.
Janelle Lucas thrives at that height. Never mind that from that platform she will be launching herself into a pool of water 18 feet deep. Not enough? She’ll be spinning and twisting on her 1.44-second descent.
“I really love it,” said Lucas, a freshman from Mission Viejo, Calif., who had her first taste of diving’s highest dive when she was 14. “When you go platform, it’s all up to you. It doesn’t move. It’s right there.”
There is no doubt Lucas’ background as a gymnast is a big part of her success but there is something extra, says coach Jim Southerland, that has enabled her to advance to the Zone Diving Championships her first year in college.
“I’ve never seen anyone use their eyes and be so aware,” he said after he and Lucas finished her final training before heading to the meet at Flagstaff, Ariz. “I’ve never seen anyone who spots like she does.”
While she also qualified for the Zone competition in the 3-meter springboard, her focus is on the platform where her 284.20 was the best in the preliminary rounds– and ultimately her collegiate best. She won the Western Athletic Conference title with a 278.20.
More unique, is the closest platform for her to train is at Federal Way, Wash. This, Southerland says, makes her club and high school background all the more meaningful.
“She’s been really well trained,” he said. “She came to us at a high level.”
Lucas, a gymnast from the time she was little more than a toddler, turned to diving when she was 14. At the time, springboard was what she knew. Then her coach, Janet Ely (a two-time Olympian and 1975 world 10-meter champion) took her up the platform. An admitted “adrenaline junkie,” Lucas followed Ely’s direction to just jump the first time.
“It’s a long drop,” she confesses. “Your stomach kind of drops when you’re just jumping down.”
That two-second plunge was all that was needed to hook her on the platform.
“It grew on me,” she said. “I like how artistic it is. I really enjoy flipping and twisting. It’s a fun time for me.”
While it may seem improbable that she can spin and twist in the air and still break the surface of the water at the correct time, she said it’s as natural as walking to class.
“It’s almost like a second language to me,” Lucas said.
You can follow her progress at the Zone E Meet here, where teammate Nikki Imanaka (1- and 3-meter) and Maren Seljevold (1- and 3-meter) also are competing.