BYU Diving Coach Keith Russell
With the Opening Ceremonies
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of the 2008 Beijing Olympics this week, one member of the BYU community has a unique opportunity to take part in the action. Not as a competitor, but rather as a judge.
Cougar diving coach Keith Russell has made the long trip across the Pacific Ocean to the world games to judge the 3-meter springboard and 10-meter platform diving events. He was chosen to fulfill this elite role as the lone U.S. diving judge by the Board of Directors for USA Diving.
“Having the chance to be an Olympic judge is a provident thing for me,” Russell said. “I’ve spent a lot of time over all my life being involved in diving and as a member of the diving community so it’s greatly satisfying to have an opportunity like this.”
Coach Russell is no stranger in the world of diving. He is a former two-time collegiate All-American and earned a spot on the 1968 US Olympic team as a diver. He has been the BYU diving coach for 15 years during which he has coached numerous divers who have reached the Olympics – most recently Justin Wilcox and Rachelle Kunkel who competed in the 2004 Olympics.
The path for being selected as an Olympic judge is a three-year process. The Board of Directors for USA Diving is the group that makes the call on who they want to send to the Olympics to represent America. Coach Russell has been a diving judge for more than 25 years.
“He (Coach Russell) is very highly regarded within USA Diving,” said Marsha Russell, wife of Coach Russell. “People within the diving community see him as a very honest man who has a lot of integrity. This is a sport that can easily be influenced by a dishonest person, and Keith is seen as the exact opposite of that negative stereotype.”
As a judge of the 3-meter springboard and 10-meter platform for the upcoming Olympics, Russell was required to travel to three international diving competitions within the last year in preparation for his part in the world’s largest diving event. One of those international judging assignments required him to miss a Mountain West Conference meet this past season. Because of Russell’s deep commitment to BYU, he asked USA Diving to send out a replacement coach to fill in during his absence.
Throughout all of the excitement that has followed Russell as he has made preparations to be an Olympic judge, he has kept things in perspective. In fact, due to his humble approach, it is often hard to get him to acknowledge his achievements to others around him.
“He is very humble,” said All-MWC diver Angela Nelson, a member of the 2007-08 BYU diving team. “He never boasts about his accomplishments. He never wants people to ever think that he is above another person.”
Speaking to Russell’s humble nature, his wife even went so far to say that he almost goes out of his way at times to not tell people what he is doing this summer.
“He avoids telling people,” Marsha said. “If anyone tells people about him being named an Olympic judge, it’s me.”
And yet, Russell has had much to boast about during his career. He has been honored an amazing 15 times as the conference diving coach of the year and has helped BYU divers earn 19 All-America citations, including Cougar sophomore Tawni Jones this past season. Three of those All-America awards were earned by his son Aaron in 2000, 2001 and 2003.
“One of Keith’s highlights was when he got to coach our son, Aaron,” Marsha said. “He is also very proud of his divers that made it to the Olympics. He is very loyal and dedicated to BYU. He loves being at BYU.”
Russell’s talents and dedication are evident in the success he has achieved during his career as a diver and as a coach. Now 40 years after making his first trip to the Olympics, he makes another journey to represent his country at the Olympic Games. He will see the best athletes in the world compete, but this time as a judge.
“Being named a judge is something you have to prove yourself in,” Russell said. “All the efforts and time have come to pay off in a way that I never expected.”
Russell as a member of the 1968 U.S. Olympic Team.