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Watching Olympics was a springboard for UF diver Close


© St. Petersburg Times, published December 9, 2001

After Sarah Close (Dunedin) watched the 1992 Olympics, the 12-year-old decided to give up competitive gymnastics and concentrate on diving.

After Sarah Close (Dunedin) watched the 1992 Olympics, the 12-year-old decided to give up competitive gymnastics and concentrate on diving.

The transition was fairly easy, since many of the same skills are used in both sports.

"After watching the Olympics, I had a dream of being in the Olympics one day," said Close, 21, who's on the University of Florida diving team. "I decided diving was the way. There are skills that relate -- like any flipping motions."

Once Close started in the sport, she didn't stop and trained locally with the Suncoast Diving Club and coach David Anderson. She won back-to-back Class 5A state championships and competed twice in the National Junior Championships.

Following her high school graduation in 1998, Close was recruited by the University of Houston. A back injury her sophomore season sidelined Close for more than year.

"Even though I couldn't practice, I went to the practices and helped coach," Close said.

"What I discovered was that I really wasn't where I wanted to be," she said. "I didn't know exactly where I would go, then Florida opened the door to me and I transferred there."

In her second season with the Gators, Close has competed in the NCAA Diving Zones, as well as national and international events.

"What I would really like to do this year is make it to the NCAA," she said. "If I can keep improving and become more consistent, I think I have a chance.

"Last year, coming back after my injury, I spent time building on my skills and regaining confidence. This year, I feel like I've passed that and am concentrating on improving my techniques. Plus, I feel I've gotten my confidence back."

During the fall season, Close consistently finished among the top four.

Against Clemson, she captured the titles in the one- and three-meter events.Finishing the season earlier this month in the Arkansas Invitational, Close placed third.

"Our next competition is not until Jan. 2 in an invitational in Georgia," said Close, "but we're still training hard and will continue training until we go home for Christmas Dec. 19."

Close graduates in August with a degree in Family Youth and Community Services and may expand her part-time job with the Fellowship of Christian Athletes.

"I could compete another year since I was red-shirted when I hurt my back," Close said, "but I'm thinking I may be ready to get on with my life."

Notre Dame sophomore Meghan Perry-Eaton, formerly of St. Petersburg, won the one-meter competition and placed second on the three-meter in the Minnesota Invitational.

BASKETBALL: Shinikki Whiting (Clearwater) scored a career-high 28 points in Florida State's overtime loss to Florida.

The junior had 19 points in the second half.

In an 87-78 win over Georgia Tech, Whiting had 11 points.

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