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Wednesday, August 23, 2000
Houston, Texas
Volume 66, Issue 3 

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Diving coach helps Russian in Sydney Olympics

By Tom Carpenter
Daily Cougar Staff

UH diving coach Jane Figueiredo is planning a trip to Sydney, Australia.

The Cougar graduate and three time All-American will be going to the Olympics for the second time.

Figueiredo competed in the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles as a member of the Portuguese Olympic team, finishing No. 22 in her diving event.

Figueiredo was honored as the National Independent Conference Championships Diving Coach of the Year in 1997-98. She was also the coach for the 1996 British Olympic diving team.

The Cougar coach came to UH on a diving scholarship and has been affiliated with the University since '82, graduating in '86.

Figueiredo majored in Hotel and Restaurant Management because she wanted a career that would allow her to work anywhere in the world.

Her former diving coach at UH took a job at the University of Tennessee and suggested Figueiredo give coaching a try.

"It was good luck and fortune for me. I went through the interview process, and being an alumna obviously didn't hurt," Figueiredo said. "I love the University of Houston and I had a great time here. I was only too happy to take over."

Figueiredo will be going to Sydney as a coach, and in a strange twist of fate, the Zimbabwe native will be coaching a member of the Russian diving team, Vera Ilyina, who will be competing in her third Olympics for Russia.

"My family sponsored Vera so she could come to the United States," Figueiredo said.

Figueiredo said that Ilyina had only two years of college eligibility left when she arrived in the United States, and the University of Texas was the only college she could get Ilyina into at the time.

"Our family provided her with a place to stay. I couldn't have done that if she'd come to the University of Houston," Figueiredo said.

While at the University of Texas, Ilyina won consecutive NCAA championships in the one and three meter diving boards.

"If she would have had four years of eligibility left, I might have reconsidered my decision to get her into UT," Figueiredo said.

Figueiredo and Ilyina had been friends for a number of years and the coach's primary concern was to get Ilyina out of Russia and into the United States.

"To me, it was more important to get her here. Some things are more important than winning," Figueiredo said.

Figueiredo has been coaching Ilyina for the past four years. 

"I'm Vera's personal coach and I also coach their (the Russian) synchronized diving team," Figueiredo said.

Ilyina and her Russian teammate are the favorites to win the gold medal in Sydney in the newest Olympic event, synchronized diving.

"They're the World Cup champions. That was the qualifying to get into the Olympics," Figueiredo said.

The synchronized diving teams competed in Sydney for seven Olympic berths. The Russian team qualified by winning the gold.

"It's very, very stiff competition. The two girls that dove for the US were Cougar divers. The meet was extremely tough and they just happened to miss the Olympics by one place," Figueiredo said.

Ilyina finished sixth in the Barcelona Olympics and seventh in Atlanta in her specialty.

Figueiredo says it's not the physical preparation for the Olympics, as much as the mental.

"This is her (Ilyina) third Olympics. She was favored to win the gold in Atlanta, but the pressure was just a little too much," Figueiredo said.

Figueiredo said that she thinks Ilyina has benefited from being in the United States. The Russian Olympian came to the United States immediately following the '96 Olympics.

"The United States has provided her with a great opportunity to grow personally, physically and mentally. I think her whole perspective will be very different this time around," Figueiredo said.

The path to becoming an Olympian is rugged and difficult, demanding great sacrifice in every area of an athlete's life.

"Gold medals are nice, but it's the process that separates the women from the girls," Figueiredo said. "It's tough, but she's been doing it a long time. I hope that I've been able to add something to her routine that might make a difference for her. We'll see."

Figueiredo believes that many athletes reach the pinnacle of their career and then lack the confidence to achieve their goal, an Olympic gold medal.

"It's that edge. You have to believe you're capable and that you're worthy of it. A lot of athletes get to that point and think, 'I can't win a gold medal, it's just impossible.'"

Figueiredo believes that Ilyina needs to focus on why she's there and simply enjoy the experience of travelling to Australia and competing in the Summer Olympics.

"If she can do that," Figueiredo said, "the rest will take care of itself."
 

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