Jason Graves atop the platform
Dive Inby Jim Provenzano
Bay Area Reporter
The rare sport of diving enjoyed a terrific showing of talented athletes at Gay Games VI in Sydney.
On the same platform where David Pichler competed as one of over 20 out lesbian and gay athletes in the 2000 Olympics, dozens of lesser known yet still talented athletes took the plunge.
Derek Douglas competed in solo and synchronized diving with Mike Schuerger from Chicago, with whom he dived at US Masters events.
Born in Denver, Douglas grew up in Bay Area, and started diving in high school in Walnut Creek. He now lives in Berkeley and works for Hero Design firm.
Like many school athletes, he stopped in 1987, after a successful college diving career. "It's hard to get yourself to a job and a pool, and have a life," he said.
With a back injury canceling his plans to compete at New York's Games IV, and the last-minute indecision by Dutch hosts of Gay Games V leaving most divers absent, the honor of diving at the 2000 Olympic Stadium offered Douglas a chance to shine on the platform in Sydney last month.
His two-year training plan paid off, with a silver medal in the 3-meter dive, and a bronze in platform (both Mens 40-44).
"It was amazing to get back on the boards," Douglas said of his return to training and getting a coach.
"Within a week or two I was diving really well," he said. "I was enjoying it as much or more than I ever had. Getting back into it, with the Games as my goal, I found the Masters Diving program and started going to meets. I like to compete, and went to summer Nationals at Mission Viejo and Texas. The people are great. It?s really fun, and a small community."
With the Masters World competition in Melbourne just a month before the Games, some had prepared for that, and were prepped for it. Another big diving event took place in Auckland. This led to some more competitive levels than expected. Eleven men were in Douglas' category.
"My age group had more competition," he said. "I was surprised there were so many. It raised the level of competition. In diving it's so competitive until you're about 22, then you burn out. You need to sit back and take a break, even to enjoy it."
"There is now a dialogue between gay divers and US divers." Douglas said. "They know we're out there. I think there's more awareness. I think that will help elevate the participation in the international organizations. The coaching and judges, and the support from FINA for the Games seemed much better than I thought it would be."
Douglas is also hoping to either compete or host divers for San Francisco Tsunami's IGLA 2003, a huge masters swim meet in Palo Alto next August.
Finding available platforms and pools that allow diving is as rare as the athletes. USF has the only San Francisco facility. One in Concord is being removed. UC Davis won't include a platform in their new facility. This makes Stanford's dive-equipped new pool a potential mecca for divers.
And although he likes competition, Douglas said he doesn't check scores until after a heat.
"In diving you compete against yourself," and against the goal of perfection in form. The element of risk, and perilous height, are also factors. Douglas said he has hit the board on a few occasions.
"It can be very dangerous. It's consoling to have a coach there. I can't walk a straight line, but throw me in the air, and I know where I am. When you get better, it's the fear thing, especially to do something new, or re-learning something. Your heart is thumping, your throat goes dry, and you hurl yourself into space. That water hurts when you hit it wrong."
One diver who found out was Douglas's college friend Jeff Stabile, who hit his head on the board on the Wednesday of Sydney's competition. After getting several stitches, Stabile continued competing, and even performed at the Aquamania show at the conclusion of swim events.
When I interviewed him four years ago, Ramaciotti was a medical student at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland. Since then, he's lived in various cities to pursue his medical studies, and has lived in Sydney for a year and a half, and plans to live in Australia, having been offered a faculty appointment in Sydney at the University of New South Wales.
Ramaciotti's field of study is surgery, mostly head injuries. His quick thinking helped when Stabile was injured. Ramaciotti went on the win a silver medal in Men's Platform (age 40-45) and placed fourth in 3-meter platform synch diving with Steven Shaw.
"I hope to keep up with diving," he said of his diverse career and sports interests. "The first couple of years are going to be hard, with my internship and residency."
His love of diving started, "thirty years ago in St. Louis," he said. "My dad worked for airlines, so we moved around. When we moved to New England, I dove there in the Junior Olympics."
While still an undergraduate, he dove in Gay Games in 1986 at the Games in San Francisco. Yet Sydney ranks high for him.
"Of all the Games diving events I've competed in or been to and watched, this was by the far the best field of athletes," he said. "One of the officials (at Gay Games VI) had been a judge at the Masters World Cup in Melbourne, and she said we blew them away with the caliber of who was competing."
Having been living in Sydney, Ramaciotti had his coach there to provide support and critique, and knew a fair number of competitors.
But he?s also glad he was able to help out when another diver was injured. Ramaciotti's currently in San Francisco, where he operated on cancer patients.
Other divers hail from all over. Christopher Russ from Anchorage, Alaska, won gold in the 40-44 one-meter category. He was able to put his high school diving experience in Longmont, Colorado to good use.
"I decided a year ago come here, and started practicing again, a couple times a week, worked out, lost 30 pounds!" he said with pride.
Having come back to diving after so long, he found it easy to return. "You don't lose it. I don't do many new dives. I've also always been out since I was 20, but it's still special to be here."
When asked if diving required a focused concentration, he laughed. "Well, it's the one where I knew I could get medals!"
Greg Cliffe from Melbourne was proud to compete in one-meter, three-meter and synchronized diving, as well as being part of the host team to use the facilities built for the Olympics. "I've had 20 years break, so this is my first big competition."
Being out as a diver means a lot to him. "When you're diving in an elite forum, it's hard to come out, more so today, because of all the money involved."
Cliffe sat on the platform watching the earlier competition medal ceremony with Antoine Giannelli of Paris Aquatique, a team who always offer a fantastic show at the famed Pink Flamingos ceremony.
"I dive as well, from the three meters," Giannelli said. He also dove in Toronto's IGLA meet, with a mere two years diving experience, studying with a French National Team coach. His taking up diving should inspire others wishing to live their dreams.
Fire and Water
"I think it's one of the gayest sports out there," said Testa. "If you're going to be bothered by gay people in diving, you're not going to get very far. I've always been out, even in regular competition. The other people can get fucked if they don't like it."
He described his time at Illinois University as "a very homophobic college, but I didn't have problems."
Testa perfected variations of his dives while performing at Universal Studios theme park, where he performed in a variety of acts, including in a flaming fire suit.
Testa won gold in 3-meter springboard in Mens 30-34, silvers in the one-meter springboard and platform, and a silver in Synch Diving with multi-medalist Robin Johanssen (Men 18-34), whom he had met that week. All this despite a foot injury received from nicking the platform.
By week's end, while others were dancing the night away, with his medals put away, like an aquatic Clark Kent, Testa enjoyed watching the crowds pass Oxford Street as he sat with friends at a cafe, his healing foot placed unceremoniously on a chair.