Russell Reflects on Beijing

Russell served as the only judge for the United States at the 2008 Olympic Summer Games in Beijing, China. (Photo by Mark Philbrick/BYU Photo)

Forty years ago, BYU diving coach Keith Russell found himself at the 1968 Mexico City Olympic games in the 3-meter springboard and platform competitions and has since dreamed of returning to the Olympic stage. Russell returned this time as the United States’ only diving judge and enjoyed his experience in Beijing.

“It was exciting!,” said Russell. “It was great to see and be involved with people that I’ve been associated with for a long time. To see the Olympics from the other side—the non-athlete side—was wonderful. It brought back memories from the last time I went.”

Russell judged three preliminary events including the women’s 3-meter, women’s platform and men’s 3-meter. Judges for the semi-final and final events could not participate if they had a diver from their country competing. The divers from the United States did well enough to go on, so Russell didn’t have the opportunity to judge any final events, but he did watch them as a spectator.

While the Olympics produce the world’s best athletes, Russell wasn’t particularly impressed. “I was a little surprised that it wasn’t a little bit better,” he said. “But there were some fantastic dives. It was a great experience.”

While the world watched dive after dive with commentary, replays and slow motion, the judges didn’t have this pleasure. Seven judges sat on either side of the pool for the individual events (nine judges for synchronized) and had between two and three seconds to decide on their score. Russell said they were taught to judge the dive and the overall impression. If the judges were wowed, they would set their score and rethink the dive to take off necessary deductions. “The two highest scores and two lowest scores would be taken out and the three remaining scores would leave a pretty agreeable and accurate final score,” said Russell.

Being a diving judge takes just as much concentration as being a diver. “You sit down and realize that you’re going to be judging the Olympics and you try and get into the frame of mind that you’re doing something you’ve done forever.”

BYU made it possible for Russell to return as the official United States diving judge at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing. “I would’ve never gone if it weren’t for BYU,” said Russell. “BYU as a resource is why I became an Olympic judge; you just don’t do it by yourself. I am glad they supported me and now we have seen the results.”

Since starting his career as diving coach at BYU in 1993, Russell has produced nine All-American divers and sent two to the Olympics. During this time Russell worked with USA Diving and eventually was nominated to be a FINA (Fdration Internationale de Natation—International Federation of Swimming) judge. With FINA he has been able to judge an event each year, taking him all over the world.

“When you think about trying to pick someone that is a judge, you are picking someone for their integrity, their fairness and their knowledge of the sport,” said BYU head swimming coach Tim Powers. “Keith epitomizes all of those areas. The U.S. could have picked among any of the coaches in the country, but they picked Keith Russell, which shows that they have come to know the things that we have known about Keith all along.”

FINA was in charge of the 2008 Olympics in providing airfare, lodging and entertainment for Russell. He was able to be seated in the Bird’s Nest for the opening ceremonies and loved it. “It was probably the best show I’ve ever seen in my life! It was out of control!”

Russell looks forward to the 2008-09 season of diving where All-American Tawni Jones returns to the boards as well as some new promising recruits.

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