Family's search for gold
Chartiers Valley's Maria Lohman listens to directions from Pitt diving coach Julian Krug at Trees Hall during a recent practice session.
Pitt diving coaches Julian Krug and Dorothy "Doe" Krug at Trees Hall.
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Doe Krug was so captivated by the sport of diving that she was simply happy to be near it. She loved the combination of art and athleticism and, when she returned from college to her hometown of Bloomington, Ind., she got a job as a lifeguard at Indiana University so she could be around the divers.
Julian Krug had been a decorated diver at the University of Wisconsin, finishing as high as fourth in nationals. In the summer of 1976, he moved to Bloomington to train for what would be his third and final Olympic trials. He would run into Doe at the pool from time to time and quickly identified her as a "diving groupie." One night, they attended the same party, and Doe couldn't deny she was glad when they struck up a conversation.
"He was a diver, and he was a very confident person," Doe said.
To jump off that board time and time again, he would have to be, right? Julian never made the Olympics, but his passion for his craft led him to the head coaching job at Pitt in 1979. Doe came along for the ride, too, one that continues each day at Trees Pool on Pitt's campus more than three decades later.
Through their commitment to the sport, Julian and Doe could be considered the first family of diving, and they raised their two children at that pool. So when you hear that their daughter, Cassidy, 26, is an 11-time national champion diver and will compete this week in Seattle for a spot on the U.S. Olympic team, it doesn't come off as all that surprising.
Because of course Julian and Doe pushed her hard to be the best in the world at the sport they loved. Of course Julian wanted his gifted baby girl to make the Olympic team so that he could live out his own dreams through her. And of course Cassidy would become obsessed with winning and do whatever it took to make her parents feel proud of her.
Except that isn't how it went at all.
Julian Krug truly doesn't know what will happen when his daughter begins her quest Tuesday in the 3-meter springboard preliminaries and semifinals for a spot next month in the London Olympic Games. Given her status as reigning national champion, Cassidy should make the finals Saturday and be one of the favorites to represent her country in London.
But, with Cassidy, there has been something missing in the past when the stakes are at the highest.
"She's not really a competitor," Julian said. "She's not. You talk about people with killer instinct. Well, if it takes that, and indeed it may, then she won't make the team. She ain't going anywhere.
"But there are other ways to do this thing. I would suggest she's more success-oriented. She doesn't harbor any ill-will toward anybody else, but she does damn well want to do it right herself and let the chips fall where they may."
It is an odd thing to say about someone who has committed her life to a sport, training six days a week the past three years at Stanford University in Palo Alto, Calif., where she attended school, but Julian isn't trying to be harsh. This is just who Cassidy is, and it makes her a fascinating study in the sometimes cutthroat world of elite athletics.
"There are competitors, and there are performers," Doe said, "and I would say my daughter is a performer."
Does Cassidy Krug have it in her? It's the question -- one that her parents have let her handle from the beginning.
Family lore states that Cassidy was at the pool a week after she was born. She remembers jumping off a diving board into the loving arms of her parents before she could even swim and, years later, climbing up the ladder to the 3-meter board by herself and not knowing how to get back down. Then there was the time someone gave her $5 the first time she jumped off the 5-meter board.
"It was really a playground growing up for me," Cassidy said.
And that's the thing. It was all about play. Julian and Doe told her that she needn't ever feel the need to dive for them. As much as Julian believed that was her destiny, he sat back and let her focus on gymnastics until she was 15. Yes, if Cassidy was going to make the Olympics, it was going to be tumbling and vaulting.
"We've always told her, 'Hey, you dive because you want to dive,' " Julian said. " 'The minute you don't want to dive, there ain't no pressure from us. Get out. You're done.' "
Cassidy dived, but it was just one of the many things she enjoyed doing. There was this one point, in her sophomore year at Montour High School, when she competed at gymnastics nationals at level 10 (the level just below elite) and won diving junior nationals and still wanted to pole vault on the high school track team. That year, on her own, Cassidy decided that diving was her best long-term option, so she left gymnastics.
"It was in the cards," Julian said.
Cassidy became an All-American at Stanford and won the 2007 national championship in the 3-meter. Still, as an English and creative writing major, she wanted to be more than just a diver. After graduating in 2007, she decided that she would make one good run at the '08 Beijing Games and then retire from the sport, no matter what happened.
In the months leading up to Beijing, she injured her vertebrae, which hurt her ability to adequately train. And, in the biggest moment of her athletic career, Cassidy did not perform to expectations at the '08 Olympic trials, finishing a distant eighth.
She was disappointed, but she also was not looking back. She had a job lined up with the Stanford Alumni Association, and she would take the first step in a life without diving.
In Pittsburgh, her father kept quiet as always. But, needless to say, he was not convinced his daughter had taken her final plunge into a pool.
Julian Krug would be proven right again. Cassidy was not done performing. Nine months after retiring, she decided she had more to accomplish in diving. That she missed the sport as much as she did was shocking to her.
"I missed that feeling of waking up in the morning and knowing that you're going to spend that day training to be the best in the world at something," Cassidy said.
There's that phrase, the best -- an admission that it is no longer about her alone but her talents matched against those of her competitors. Her parents can see the changes she has made to strengthen her game mentally and physically the past three years, but, at her core, she's still the same Cassidy -- a good-natured girl who was taught to dive not to win but to enjoy.
"This is the critical moment," Julian said. "If you're a competitor, you love this moment. If you don't love that pressure, that's tough. She has adjusted to all of that and done very well with it."
Once again, Cassidy plans to retire this year. She has no regrets, often reflecting on the adventures that diving has given her. She has traveled the globe, eating exotic foods and making lifelong connections. And, for the past eight months, she has been writing at least 750 words a day in a journal so that she'll be able to look back at this exciting part of her life and relive it down the road.
"One of the main things I've learned," Cassidy said, "is to appreciate the whole experience more. I've spent the last four years trying to enjoy the whole journey."
Is Cassidy Krug ready for her moment? Julian certainly hopes so, but this isn't about him. It never was.
"Boy do I want her to make that team," he said. "That's big time. But it's not so much because I didn't and I had the dream. It's because she really is that good. Everybody thinks of me as this great diver, and I love to say it everywhere: My daughter passed me up a long time ago. I'm proud of that."
First Published June 18, 2012 12:00 am