Olympic hopeful diver driven to be the best she can be

Photo by Charles Hallman Kristen Hayden

There are approximately 100 African American and other student-athletes of color this school year at the University of Minnesota. In an occasional series throughout the 2019-20 school and sports year, the MSR will highlight many of these players.

This week: Gopher senior diver Kristen Hayden

Swimming and diving season is well underway, but Kristen Hayden is not diving this season for Minnesota. She is sitting out the 2019-20 season, one of two Gophers doing this for an Olympic off-year as she trains for a possible spot on the U.S. Summer Olympics team.   

During a recent campus visit, Hayden talked about her “break” from college—she expects to return this fall for her final season of eligibility and complete her degree studies. “My Olympic dream actually started when I went to this coach…my senior year [in high school],” referring to diving coach John Wingfield. “He said I could do this, and we can really look at the Olympics.”

Wingfield is working with Hayden and nine other divers in Arcada, Indiana. “All I do is train, train, train,” Hayden said.

But it’s never boring: “He has new drills for us and keeps it interesting,” Hayden explained.  “Everything you do is videotaped. You can watch it in slo-mo and take it frame by frame…a lot of visual learning. Every single day I come into practice with something else to think about, closer to what they say is perfection.

“It doesn’t get boring for me because I am getting closer and closer to where I thought my dives should look like,” Hayden pointed out.

A two-time high school state champion (2013, 2015), Hayden finished 20th at the 2016 World Junior Championships. She won a silver in the one-meter and two bronze medals in the three-meter at the 2016 Diving Nationals.

As a Gopher last season, Hayden posted her best dives in Maroon and Gold in the one-meter, three-meter and platform. She placed in the top 10 in her three events at the Big Ten Championships and All-American in the three-meter.

This season she is diving unattached in several college meets as she prepares for the Olympic Trials, as well as volunteering to coach swimming at a local Indiana high school.

The young woman says diving is no different from any other activity she has undertaken in her life. “I’ve always been very driven to be the best I could in everything I’ve done. I’ve done the flute, and I practiced hours and hours and actually got to be able to try for the region band.

“I’ve done gymnastics, and I was a high-level gymnast,” Hayden continued. “I did ballet, and they wanted me to become a full-time ballerina. It’s just natural that anything I do I see how far I can go.”

From all these options she chose to be a rarity, a Black female swimming diver. Hayden has been the Gophers’ only Black diver for two seasons after transferring from Michigan in 2017, where she was an All-American in her freshman season. 

“There really isn’t diversity in diving,” she said. But she said jokingly, “The water don’t care and the boards don’t care.”

Olympics or bust

Countries can qualify up to two entries per individual Olympic event. The U.S. Olympic trials are scheduled for June 14-21 in Indianapolis. Hayden plans to return to Minnesota this fall and graduate with her degree—she was an Academic All-Big Ten last season. 

“I’m majoring in communications,” she said. “I want to become a television broadcaster.” She will undoubtedly be the best TV broadcaster she can be.