“Hey! You’re leaning the shoulders back a little bit
in the start.”

Jason Coben nods.

“Narrow press right there, and try to keep the shoulders
over so the feet get thrown up over your head.”

Another nod, followed by another attempt from the one-meter
springboard.

Michigan diving coach Chris Bergere is helping Coben in his
preparation for this weekend’s NCAA Diving Zones in
Bloomington. While the rest of the swimming and diving team will
remain in Ann Arbor to practice another two weeks for the NCAA
Championships, Coben, a senior, will hit the road with three divers
from the women’s team.

Unlike the swimmers, who have had opportunities to qualify for
the championships with automatic or consideration times in dual and
conference meets throughout the season, Coben has one shot. A
two-day stretch of regional competition at Indiana will determine
whether or not he will be able to defend his 2003 NCAA
Co-Championship on the 10-meter platform at the end of the
month.

“This is a big meet for me,” Coben said after
practice Tuesday. “Not so much to prove myself, but just to
stay consistent and get to the meet that really matters. I just
have to stay calm. As long as I make the NCAAs, I’ll be a
happy camper.”

Coben is often anything but cheerful during practice, where it
is not unusual for him to become angry with himself when things do
not go smoothly. On this day, he makes his disgust known by hitting
the shiny poolside railing and forcefully throwing his towel to the
ground.

“It’s really frustrating,” Coben said.
“It’s easy to get over it after my practice because I
can sit down with Chris and I can ask him, ‘What exactly did
you see that I couldn’t feel?’ But if I had to coach
myself, I’d probably hang myself. I just have to refocus and
go on.”

Despite the difficulties of training, Bergere is confident that
Coben will not disappoint.

“He’s got a great shot,” Bergere said.
“I expect him to qualify and go. He’s going in with a
lot of experience, he knows what the contest is going to be about,
he knows who’s going to be there. I just expect him to go in
there, have a good day, do what he’s been doing all year, and
it should be no problem.”

If any diver knows what to expect, it’s Coben. He has
qualified for the NCAA Championships each of his previous three
years. In his signature event — the 10-meter platform —
he has improved his final position every year (28th as a freshman,
seventh as a sophomore and first as a junior).

Coben will take his past experiences and successes with him to
the Diving Zones.

“(Winning the title) last year taught me that anything is
possible,” he said. “I didn’t think that
I’d even come close to winning, and I just ended up winning
that year. I just want to come back and either try to repeat or at
least get in the top three.”

Coben’s showing at the Big Ten Championships two weeks ago
in West Lafayette was almost as impressive as this national title
run. He captured first place in the one-meter springboard and the
10-meter platform en route to being named Diver of the
Championship. The highlight of Coben’s performance came when
he nailed a back arm-stand double with two-and-a-half twists from
10 meters up, a dive that has been attempted by just 12 people in
the world.

This weekend, Coben will probably unveil a dive that is even
more difficult.

“His hardest dive is a reverse three-and-a-half
tuck,” Bergere said. “That other one has (a higher
degree of difficulty), but this one is a lot harder for him,
because you have to spin toward the platform with your
head.”

Even with his long list of achievements, Coben knows he will
have butterflies at the beginning of the competition.

“I’m probably going to be very nervous when I get
there,” he said. “At Big Tens, I wanted to make sure
that I did better than I have in the years before, and my nerves
just went crazy. I learned from that experience. I just need to get
out there, get my first dive out of the way, and then my nerves
usually calm down.”

Bergere knows that, even though Coben is considered a favorite,
the senior must earn his spot at the NCAAs in Long Island, N.Y.

“On any given day, even the best person can be
beat,” Bergere said. “He just needs to go in there and
take care of his business.”

Coben knows exactly what he needs to do this weekend. But
practice is once again proving to be more troublesome.

“You just look like you missed your right leg a little bit
in the tuck there,” Bergere said to his champion. “But
you stayed over it better. The pickup looked a little delayed, but
you seemed to make it no problem. If you connect that a bit
smoother, that will be fine.”

Another nod, another attempt.

If everything works out, another berth in the NCAA Championships
will follow for Jason Coben.

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