Diving sensation makes
a splash, thrives on competition
By Samica Knight
Daily Cougar Staff
For someone who initially felt like a fish
out of water when she entered the United States to attend college, it didn't
take sophomore Yulia
Pakhalina long to become comfortable at
As a freshman, the Russian 2000 Olympic
synchronized diving gold medallist led UH to two NCAA championships, an
achievement in UH diving history.
Pin Lim/The Daily Cougar
Sophomore Yulia Pakhalina
is picture perfect as she practices to defend her NCAA championships on
the 1- and 3-meter springboard.
Pakhalina won a gold medal for Russia
in synchronized diving at the 2000 Olympic Games.
This was an amazing triumph considering
the outstanding tradition of the Cougar swimming and diving program. Twelve
have participated in Olympic diving and
Pakhalina wiped out the competition in
the 1- and 3-meter springboard diving events at the NCAA championships
at the Nassau County
Aquatic Complex in Long Island, N.Y.,
Cougar head diving coach Jane Figueiredo
has nothing but praise for her dual diving champion.
"Yulia brings skill, dedication and commitment
to the team," Figueiredo said. "She shows the same dedication with her
When Pakhalina first began diving in Russia
she was coached by her father, Vladimar Pakhalina, who still coaches her
Figueiredo recruited Pakhalina through
Pakhalina's best friend and Russian synchronized diving partner, Vera Ilyina,
during the 2000
Olympic summer games. Figueiredo coached
the Russian team to the gold medal at the Sydney games.
The UH world-champion springboard diver
turned down an outstanding program at Texas to sign on with UH.
In the 19-year history of the NCAA swimming
and diving championships, Texas has won seven championships, second only
Pakhalina felt UH offered the best opportunity
to work closely with one of the best diving coaches in the world.
Hard work is definitely part of the winning
game. With the diving season right around the corner, Pakhalina spends
an hour in the mornings
doing somersault repetitions and practicing
difficult tricks on dry land.
"The great Russian and Chinese divers spend
more time out of the water than they do in the water," Figueiredo said.
Pakhalina finally gets into the water during
her two-and-a-half hour practice in the afternoon.
When describing the intensity of Pakhalina's
practice sessions, Figueiredo said, "She just started school so we haven't
hit it yet."
Though only a sophomore, Pakhalina, like
all champions, thrives on competition and fears no opponent.
In fact, when Pakhalina learned the No.
1-ranked 1-meter diver in the world signed with Southern California this
year, she couldn't contain
"I am happy that she is staying there,"
she said, "because at least I'll have somebody to compete with."
That's how good Pakhalina is: head and
shoulders above the rest of the competition.
Although Pakhalina often travels to different
countries to compete and her collection of medals glitter with gold, she
gets a little homesick at
"My mom and my dog is missing me a lot,"
she said. "And as the Olympic champion, everybody in my town knows me,
so it is really hard to
Pakhalina wants to continue her studies
at UH while she competes for world titles and NCAA championships. She plans
to graduate in four
years with a degree in sports administration.
She's not certain about life after collegiate
diving because, unlike most other sports, no professional diving teams
exist anywhere in the
Pakhalina participated in the 2001 Goodwill
Games in Brisbane, Australia, this weekend. The Cougar dynamo finished
12th in the 1-meter
springboard contest and fifth in the 3-meter
China's Jingjing Guo finished first in
both events to sweep the springboard diving competition. China's Guo and
Minxia Wu then upset
Pakhalina and Ilyina in the synchronized
diving event. The Russian gold medal winners finished in second place.
Not every day brings success, even for
an Olympic gold medallist.
So what comes after college for this incredible
"I'll try to stay in shape for the next
Olympic games," Pakhalina said.
There is one thing Pakhalina knows for
certain: Russia is the place she wants to be.
"I like your state," she said, "but it's