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Talent with a twist

In four weeks, Osceola's Kyle Blitch has turned his gymnastics skills into springboard success.

LAURA LEE
Published September 25, 2003

LARGO - There is a little hesitation in Kyle Blitch's step when he walks out onto the springboard. Almost crouching, he wobbles at the end of the board with his back to the water. At first, it might look as though Blitch, the rookie with a timid grin, doesn't know what he's doing up there.

Then he straightens his back, extends his arms, jumps up and unfurls a two and a half twist, a back summersault with two and a half turns. It's one of the most difficult dives in high school competition - worth 2.7 points.

Blitch's dive isn't perfect, but give him a break. He has only been at it for four weeks.

"I don't even know how I caught on so easily," Blitch said.

Blitch, a junior at Osceola, has been tumbling ever since he can remember, but he has never been a diver. He was encouraged by friends to go out for the diving team. A serious gymnast since his first back-handspring at age 4, Blitch showed up the first day of practice at Southwest Complex and was doing twists off the board in less than 10 minutes.

"He's very impressive, very talented," West Florida Lightning Aquatics diving coach Tony Perriello said. "It's raw talent. He's very eager, very willing and able to learn whatever it is he has to learn to be successful."

And all that wobbling is just for laughs. Blitch can make even the most intense diver crack a smile during practice.

Blitch is coached by Perriello and Osceola swim coach Ernie Whalen. He also trains with two of the top junior divers in the country - Osceola's Alex Tilbrook and Admiral Farragut's Austin Hampton.

"Alex and Austin, they're the two he has to compete against at the state level," Perriello said. "He looks at them and says, "Okay, I have to do everything they do.' He's trying to put it together."

Much like Tilbrook, Blitch is learning to translate his floor exercise tumbling skills, where he's used to landing on his feet, to the diving board. He has to learn to jump up, not out, and to take his time and move slower.

The twists Blitch can do with ease take some divers more than a year to learn. While he has caught on to some of the more difficult techniques, he still struggles with some simple dives, Perriello said.

It's a matter of control and finesse, traits the coach said Blitch can learn from watching Tilbrook and Hampton.

He improves every day.

Last week at the Pinellas County Athletic Conference championships, he finished third, and by season's end he could be part of a Pinellas County trio (with Tilbrook and Hampton) that sweeps the Class A state meet.

Perriello said Blitch has the potential to be a good college diver, but doesn't know if he will make the commitment to train year-round.

After becoming bored with competitive gymnastics a few years ago, Blitch took his tumbling skills to cheerleading and competes nationally at the individual and team levels. He has won several individual cheerleading competitions and recently joined the Miami-based Top Gun All-Stars cheer team. He travels to Miami twice a month to practice with the team. On the side, he competes in power tumbling, teaches a tumbling class, choreographs for local cheering squads, remixes music for competitive routines and models.

With more practice, Blitch should only get better. Whalen has already started taping his dives, getting a portfolio ready to submit Blitch as an All-America candidate.

"He's got the dives, now all he's got to do is perfect them," Whalen said.

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