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USC Sends Three International Students to Summer Olympics

James Quantz
James Quantz
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University of South Carolina is sending three current students to this summer's Olympic Games in Rio, Brazil. One will be competing in Track & Field, one for swimming, and one for diving. All of them are international students competing for their home countries. The school's athletics department says that's not surprising. Cooper McKim has the story.

Next to an Olympic-sized pool, a diving coach holds tight to a large rope while looking up at Julia Vincent. Vincent is harnessed, standing on a three-meter diving board. She stares forward, takes a step, and jumps. The coach pulls the rope as Vincent flips through the air while the harness whirs around her.  Suddenly, the whirring stops - she halts mid-air in a perfect diving position. Her fingers are pointed inches above several feet of padding.

   

Julia Vincent is South African and a rising junior at the University of South Carolina. She's practicing one of her five dives for the upcoming Olympics. Vincent is currently in Rio, Brazil with her home team awaiting the day of competition.  "I'm nervous, but really excited. I think it'll be such a great experience and it's just something that I've looked forward to for so long," Vincent says.

Vincent began diving seven years ago, quickly proving herself as a natural talent.  Unfortunately, she found the sport wasn't very popular in her home country South Africa.  Soon, she started looking into programs elsewhere.  "That's why I came over to America because I knew being able to compete against a lot of good divers all the time would be the most beneficial thing for me," Vincent says.

Vince Kolb-Lugo/SC Public Radio
Credit Vince Kolb-Lugo
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Julia Vincent practicing a dive with her coach Todd Sherritt

Many other foreign students come to U.S. schools for the same reason - more resources and training opportunities.  USC in particular strives to provide elite athletes with the space and opportunities to continue their training.

McGee Moody is head coach of the swimming and diving program at the school. He says, in addition to great resources like underwater cameras and premier facilities, USC assures recruits they'll be able to return home to compete. "That's one of the things we promise them. If you come here, we're going to make sure you're ready to go back home and put that flag on your cap and make your family proud, make us proud, make your country proud," Moody says. They currently have students from Kuwait, Spain, Ecuador, Egypt, Barbados, Trinidad & Tabago, and more.

"If we're going to be competitive within the SEC and if we're going to remain the top conference in the country, we can't just limit ourselves from within our own borders."

Vince Kolb-Lugo/SC Public Radio
Credit Vince Kolb-Lugo/SC Public Radio
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Head of Swimming and Diving McGee Moody

While USC does attract athletes globally, Moody says there isn't preferential treatment. In general, recruitment is focused domestically, but, "we have to try and go get the best athletes from all around the world. Now what that includes is going to Europe and going to the Middle East, and going to as far as South Africa," Moody explains. Of the 61 students in swimming and diving, about 12% are from other countries.

  

He says the system works. Students get to become great athletes who compete internationally, but they'll also compete for USC.  Moody says, "If we're going to be competitive within the SEC and if we're going to remain the top conference in the country, we can't just limit ourselves from within our own borders. We have to expand out to Canada and all over the world." Akram Mahmoud, for example, is a rising junior at USC from Egypt whose ranked eight in the world for the 800-m freestyle and considered a contender for a medal in Rio.  He's also been named Egypt's Sportsman of the Year.

Vince Kolb-Lugo/SC Public Radio
Credit Vince Kolb-Lugo
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List of USC Students who have competed in the Olympics

Moody says he's proud of students like Vincent and the Mahmoud for reaching the international stage -- it helps all the athletes around them improve as well.  "I have to have people around that Olympian that want to be great. If we don't surround those folks with like-minded people, nobody's going to reach their full potential.  And those guys that are Olympians push our ones that want to be and our ones that want to be chase the ones that are."   

Vincent says her Olympic career won't end with Rio. She hopes to reach the Top 18 this year, but plans to go higher in 2020. But for now, she's just trying to stave off the nerves: "If I just go in every day and work hard, have fun, than God will take care of the rest of it," Vincent says.

She'll be competing in the three-meter dive August 12th.

Vince Kolb-Lugo/SC Public Radio
Credit Vince Kolb-Lugo
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USC Diving Boards