Last June 13, David Boudia drove home from the Olympic diving trials in Toothless, the name given to his Toyota Tundra by his oldest daughter, Koda, and replayed in his mind how he missed the team for Tokyo by three tenths of a percentage point.
When he arrived, his second daughter, Mila, ran up to the truck. She had two questions for dad.
“She asked me if I’ve ever caught fireflies, and if I wanted to catch fireflies with her,” Boudia said. “I just started to tear up.”
That interaction is what Boudia thought of first when asked to share any words he remembered after he placed third at trials, where the top two made the team. After 18 dives, Boudia had 1,314.95 points. He was 4.45 points shy of second place, the margin separating them being 0.3 percent.
“Yeah, that sucked a lot,” Boudia, a four-time medalist, said of missing an Olympics for the first time since he was 15 years old in 2004, “but it is sweet to have that kind of welcome home.
“Just putting everything in perspective.”
On that day, there was reason to wonder if Boudia had dived competitively for the last time. He was 32 years old. Will be 35 come the 2024 Paris Games, two years older than the oldest U.S. Olympic diver in history, according to Olympedia.org.
Boudia hasn’t competed since then and doesn’t know if he will again.
“Right now, I’m just enjoying what I’m doing,” he said.
Since July 1, less than three weeks after that trials heartbreak, he has been an assistant diving coach at his alma mater, Purdue, under his longtime coach, Adam Soldati. Boudia plans to go to the world championships in June in that role.
It was nine years ago that Michael Phelps attended his first world championships as a non-competitor and, partially sparked by what he felt on site, soon after unretired. Boudia isn’t preparing to be swayed one way or another in Budapest this summer.
“We’re content,” said Boudia, whose wife, Sonnie, gave birth to their fourth child and third daughter, Parker, in January. “We love where we live. I love what I do in the pool right now. So we’re taking it one stride at a time and seeing what the future holds.”
Boudia, who won the 2012 Olympic platform title with an exquisite final dive, took a year off after silver and bronze medals in 2016. He dabbled in real estate while he took time to decide whether to return. Ultimately, he came back in part because he missed the relationships forged with the diving community and at the pool.
“I don’t want to be 35, 40 years old and say, what if I would have given it another shot?” he said in 2017. “Kind of too late at that point.”
The last Olympic cycle was arduous even before the one-year Olympic postponement. His comeback was delayed by a concussion after he essentially belly-flopped on a crashed dive off the 10-meter platform. He ended up switching to the more forgiving three-meter springboard, but the same passion wasn’t there.
Then, his synchronized diving partner Steele Johnson, who had struggled with injuries, withdrew during the Olympic trials with a foot problem, ruling them out of Olympic qualification in that event. Five days later, Boudia went from first place after 15 rounds of the individual event to third place after the the 18th and final round.
He watched the Tokyo Games from home.
“The hardest thing was that in between Olympic trials and the Olympics because it was a position I hadn’t really been in,” he said. “Once the Summer Games are over and Closing Ceremonies happened, it was kind of like a good closure to that quad.”
For so long, Boudia, the lone U.S. diver to win a gold medal in the last two decades, dismissed the thought of ever becoming a coach.
“I was like, well, if I won the Olympic Games, I had success, there’s pride in it,” he reasoned. “Like I should go do bigger and better things and this high-achieving career.”
He had an epiphany about a year before Tokyo.
“A reality check,” he said. “Why can’t coaching be a career where you can still have a lot of major goals?”
If Boudia isn’t diving himself, he loves still being immersed in the sport. The joy in aiding somebody through a frustrating skill. The challenge in pinpointing and communicating to a pupil a specific flaw in a dive.
“Helping athletes who have those end goals that you’ve been able to accomplish, help them achieve that,” he said. “I’m really glad that I got some sense knocked into me and decided to jump into coaching.”