Steamboat graduate takes 4th at high dive World Championships with hopes to compete in Olympics
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Back in high school, Steamboat Springs student Genevieve Bradley had to drive 40 miles west to Craig to compete in diving on the Moffat County High School swim team.
Upon graduation in 2010, she flew 3,200 miles west of Steamboat to dive for the University of Hawaii at Manoa for four years.
This past week, Bradley, 27, traveled across the rest of the Pacific Ocean, more than 6,000 miles west of her hometown, to Gwangju, South Korea, for the FINA World Championships.
There, the former Sailor competed in the 20-meter high dive and earned fourth, narrowly missing out on a medal.
“It was a phenomenal experience. I didn’t really know what to expect going into it,” Bradley said. “I had never been to the Olympics, but it felt like what the Olympics would feel like. We stayed in a village with all the other athletes; there was a huge venue that everyone was staying at and ate at.”
The FINA World Championships features swimming, diving, artistic swimming and water polo, giving Olympians and Olympic hopefuls a chance to prove themselves ahead of the Summer 2020 games in Tokyo.
Following her first two dives, Bradley sat in third place, just 4.2 points behind the leader. Even after the third dive, Bradley was still in line for a bronze medal, but with her final attempt, Australian diver Rhiannan Iffland closed the gap to win the event, bumping Bradley to fourth.
“My degree of difficulty was not very high, because I’m still getting my dives back and learning new dives and taking it slow,” Bradley said. “I had maybe one of the lowest degrees of difficulty in the competition. Podium wasn’t even on my radar, because I didn’t think it would be possible with my (degree of difficulty.) I was just so ecstatic to hit all four of my dives. That’s what I wanted.”
Bradley qualified for the World Championships following a 10th-place finish at the FINA World Cup in Zhaoqing, China, in May. She took third among Team USA divers there, but at the FINA World Championships, she bested teammate Ellie Smart, who finished 10th overall.
“This was a big deal; she’s diving with the big kids now,” Genna’s mother Clara Bradley said.
When Bradley took to the platform, the third diver in Round 1, she waved enthusiastically, blowing kisses to each grandstand below her.
“Her personality is so different than any of the other divers out there. They all get a little too serious,” Bradley’s high school dive coach David Fix said. “I saw her on TV — how she runs up to her coach and jumps in the air and hugs her. Nothing’s changed about her. She’s got a lot of energy and a fantastic personality.”
Starting in Steamboat
Bradley was a gymnast in Steamboat before she started diving, but when the local gym closed down, she could no longer practice gymnastics.
“I was just messing around at the diving board at the wave pool in Craig, and one of the lifeguards told me to stay for dive practice.” Bradley said.
Fix said Bradley’s gymnastics background allowed her to excel early on and her love of the sport helped her improve. She won four straight regional diving championships, and during her senior year, she took second at the 2010 Colorado State Championships. That same year, Bradley was named the Colorado State Diver of the Year.
“She was the one I knew right off the bat, that if she sticks with it, she’ll be the one that goes the furthest,” Fix said.
While competing collegiately in Hawaii, Bradley was introduced to cliff diving. During the summer, she booked circus gigs in Washington and California, where she said she properly learned to high dive from a high pole into a “tiny cup of water.” Since 2015, she’s been competing professionally.
“I like flipping. I like to be upside down,” Bradley said. “I’m happiest when I’m in the air, trying to fly.”
A dive gone wrong
Bradley flipped and flew all the way to the 2016 FINA World Cup, where her career took a serious turn.
“It was the first competition of that caliber that I had been to. I just let it get to my head,” Bradley said. “I got lost in my dive and then landed on my back from 20 meters.”
She had lung and heart contusions, as well as a concussion in the front of her brain, as the impact had pushed it forward into her skull. She said she struggled speaking for months and had dizzy spells long afterwards.
Bradley’s mother was ready for her daughter to step down from the platform after that, but she said she’s since grown comfortable with watching Genna dive again.
“I’m good with it now,” Clara Bradley said. “I’m just happy when she makes it through her dives, as a mom.”
Her incident put an end to diving. Following her recovery, Bradley bought a 1969 Volkswagen bus and traveled the country. She went as far east as Chicago, making stops in Washington and South Dakota before arriving back home in Colorado. The next summer, she hit the road again, this time heading south to Mexico.
“It was fun and an adventure, but I wasn’t fulfilled,” Bradley said. “I wasn’t happy, and I didn’t really know why until I came back and tried out diving again and I realized that’s what really gets me going.”
Once again, Bradley booked a ticket to Europe to begin competing again, with this year being the first full year back since her accident.
While the World Championships may have felt like the Olympics, Bradley and her fellow high divers aren’t able to experience the biggest national stage. At least, not yet.
High diving is not an Olympic sport, but athletes and organizers are trying to make it one.
In order to become an Olympic sport, it must be governed by a federation recognized by the International Olympic Committee and be practiced widely by a certain amount of athletes in a certain amount of countries. Bradley said the men currently meet the requirements, but the women do not, and they must start at the Olympics at the same time.
Bradley said she thinks it’s realistic for high diving to be on the program in Paris in 2024.
This week, Bradley will compete at Ponte Brolla, Switzerland, where she first competed in high diving five years ago.
Ultimately, her career began in Steamboat, fostered by an atmosphere of excellence.
“There’s obviously a bunch of skiers that come out of Steamboat and do really well in athletics, but just Steamboat as a whole harbors such a good, elite athlete vibe growing up in school,” Bradley said. “It’s cool. I can make my town proud even though I don’t like the snow.”
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