Mark Humphrey, Associated Press
Suffering from a back injury, Justin Wilcock finished in last place in the 2004 Athens Games.

Justin Wilcock's back.

Anatomically speaking, a severely injured back resulted in WIlcock — the Smithfield native and 2004 Olympian — posting a last-place finish at the Athens Games.

Figuratively speaking, Wilcock is hoping to repeat as a member of the U.S. Olympic diving team and punch his ticket for the 2008 Beijing Games later this summer.

He's one of a dozen men vying for top spot on the 3-meter springboard at this week's U.S. Olympic Diving Trials, which began Wednesday and run through Sunday at the IUPUI Natatorium in Indianapolis.

Preliminaries for the men's 3-meter begin early this afternoon, with the semifinals held later this evening. The men's and women's 3-meter finals will begin Saturday at 1 p.m. MDT and will be shown live on NBC.

Four divers will earn guaranteed Olympic team berths this week — the winners of the four events (men's and women's 3-meter springboard and men's and women's 10-meter platform).

A second diver in each event as well as the synchronized teams in the four events will be chosen July 7 after a weeklong selection camp in Tennessee, with the top six finishers from each event invited.

A new twist to this year's Olympic trials — scores will be combined from the prelims, semis and finals, with the winning divers those with the highest aggregate scores throughout. The format was changed after the U.S. was shut out of diving medals at the 2004 Athens Games — the first time in 92 years — and is designed to reward a diver's consistency.

Wilcock, who is living in Indianapolis and training with national team coach Wenbo Chen, is also looking for a chance to qualify in the synchronized event. He finished fifth earlier this year at the Speedo USA Diving Spring National Championships in the individual 3-meter springboard and teamed up with Burkley Showe — his partner for the past two years — to finish second in the 3-meter synchronized event at the same national meet.

A former three-time conference diver of the year while competing at BYU, Wilcock is a five-time member of the U.S. National diving team, with a string of annual honors starting in 2003 — only interrupted in 2005 when he left diving for nearly a half-year after his back injury.

Having made the '04 Olympic team, Wilcock was doing weight training prior to the Athens Games when he suffered a stress fracture in his back.

In pain and unable to compete at his highest level, he mulled pulling out of the Olympic competition but decided at the last minute to dive. He finished last out of the 32 Olympians, scoring a zero on one dive and hitting his head on the board on another attempt — but the crowd at the Athens diving competition recognized he was far from full strength and, as he climbed out of the pool following his final dive, rewarded him with thunderous applause.

The 29-year-old took up diving at the age of 12, having participated in gymnastics several years previous. He also interrupted his diving career to serve an LDS Church mission in France and Belgium from 1998 to 2000.


E-mail: taylor@desnews.com