By Keith Peters
Palo Alto Online Sports
Kristian Ipsen isn't a household name like Tiger Woods, at least not yet. The two, however, have something very much in common when it comes to athletic accomplishments. Both headed to Stanford University as prodigies.
Woods started playing golf at age 2 and won every junior golf tournament imaginable before arriving on The Farm in 1994. In 1991 he was the youngest ever U.S. Junior Amateur champion and went on to win it twice more. He followed that with three U.S. Amateur titles, the first golfer to accomplish the feat.
Ipsen started diving at age five. At age 8, he was the youngest diver to final on all three boards at the Junior National Championships and later became the youngest ever to win a junior national title. He has been featured in Sports Illustrated's "Faces in the Crowd" and in 2008 was the youngest diver, at age 15, to compete at the U.S. Olympic Trials.
Ipsen, who will be a Stanford freshman this fall, is the most accomplished diver ever to attend the school. Most likely, he and Woods are among the select few who were so accomplished on the national level before arriving at Stanford.
So, why is Kristian Ipsen so good?
"You start with God," said Stanford diving coach Dr. Rick Schavone. "You do that with every great athlete . . . He's like a Tiger Woods; like a (Greg) Louganis . . . he's been a star since he was 9 years old."
Ipsen, who won four straight North Coast Section titles at Concord's De La Salle High and is arguably the No. 1 high school diver in the nation, was on Stanford's campus this past weekend as a member of USA Diving's World Championship team that had a two-day training camp at the Avery Aquatic Center.
The team departed on Tuesday for Shanghai, China, where it will compete at the FINA World Championships. The diving runs from July 16-24, with swimming going from the 24th through the 31st.
Ipsen, 18, will compete on the 3-meter springboard and join with 31-year-old Troy Dumais in the 3-meter synchro, where they dive together.
"This is the most important meet there is for the U.S., outside of the Olympics," Schavone said.
The results at the World Championships will determine how many berths the United States gets for the 2012 Summer Games in London. If Ipsen and Dumais finish among the top 12 on the 3-meter board in Shanghai, the USA gets two berths in that event for London. Ipsen and Dumais also need to finish among the top eight in synchro in order for the U.S. to have a team in that event.
The Olympic Trials next summer will determine which U.S. athletes and teams fill whatever spots are available.
"We're expecting them (Ipsen and Dumais) to bring back two spots for the 3-meter and one spot for synchro," Schavone said.
Ipsen is more than ready for the challenge, even though he'll be competing in an individual event at the World Championships for only the first time. At the 2009 World Championships in Rome, Ipsen and Dumais were second in the 3-meter synchro competition.
"It would be great to have a medal," Ipsen said. "I'm hoping to dive well, post some great scores and see what happens. If I dive poorly, I have no chance."
This will be Ipsen's second trip to China in as many years. He competed in the 2010 FINA Diving World Cup in Qingdao, taking sixth on the individual 3-meter board and second (with Dumais) in synchro.
That's a long way from when Ipsen got started at age five while growing up in Clayton, just south of Concord. Ipsen started off in gymnastics (for about three months) before gravitating to swimming, which proved repetitive.
"I got bored just going back and forth," he said.
When a diving club opened in his neighborhood, Ipsen got hooked.
"It was a perfect combination (of gymnastics and swimming)," said Ipsen, who now dives for veteran coach Phil Tonne and the Diablo Divers.
While he also played baseball, tennis, golf and basketball, the 5-foot-7 Ipsen gave them all up before heading off to De La Salle High. There, he dominated the NCS four straight years, breaking his own section record on the 1-meter springboard this past spring with a score of 708.60. During his 11 dives, he received a half-dozen perfect 10s from the judges.
Despite being the nation's top male prep diver and competing internationally during his high school career, Ipsen felt it was important to compete for his school, as well.
"The school did so much for me, juggling my schedule when I had to travel," he said. "I thought it was important to dive for my school whenever possible."
"He's just a great kid," Schavone said of his incoming recruit. "His parents (Kent and Yvette) have done a great job. He's probably had pressure on him since he was 10. The parents made sure that he wouldn't put diving ahead of the family."
Both his parents also made it clear that Stanford was the choice for their son. For Kristian, it was an easy sell.
"It's absolutely beautiful," he said of the Stanford campus. "It's a great place to train and great for academics. And, I've been coming here since I was eight. I didn't have a platform at my school, so I'd come down here during the summer a few days a week."
Ipsen looked right at home on Sunday as he and his USA Diving teammates tested the waters of the Maas Diving Center.
Schavone can't wait until Ipsen makes his Cardinal debut, which won't include the platform right away.
"We'll hold off on the platform (his freshman year) because we don't want him to get injured (before the 2012 Olympic Trials)," Schavone said. "But, his goal is to be NCAA champion on platform." (as well as on the 1- and 3-meter boards).
"I'm sure he wants to be the best NCAA diver ever," Schavone said.
Right now, Ipsen wants to continue his steady climb among the world's best divers. The World Championships will provide him with the kind of experience he gained from the 2008 U.S. Olympic Trials as he learned to deal with his nerves in the pressure-packed competition.
"It's always nerve-wracking when you compete, but, I'm a lot more comfortable," Ipsen said. "It would have been nice to make the team . . . I set pretty high goals."
Ipsen has plenty of reasons why he should expect the best. He won the 2007 Junior Pan Am Championships on the 3-meter board and placed first at the 2006 Junior World Championships on the 1-meter board.
Ipsen has traveled to China, Italy and Germany and gained a wealth of experience from the veteran Dumais while the two have elevated themselves as this country's top synchro diving team.
"My own personal drive toward perfection keeps me going," Ipsen said. "When something is wrong at practice with one of my dives, I get extremely frustrated and won't be able to get out of the pool until it is fixed.
"I love the adrenaline rush that I get when I am in the competition. Competing against different countries and going to different places around the world is the most fun part of my sport. Diving has influenced my life through all of the people I have met all around the world and all of the amazing places and adventures I have seen and had because of it."
The trip to the World Championships in Shanghai is just another grand experience for Ipsen, who hopes he can add London to that list in 2012.