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PIAA Swimming: Former gymnast Clark finds home on the board

LEWISBURG — In any context, Kieran Clark’s performance at the PIAA Class 3A Championships Saturday was impressive.

The Penncrest junior finished 11th in diving at Bucknell University with a score of 408.15 points. He was fourth among District 1 divers, up from seventh at districts.

All of that is superlative. More so when Clark mentions a tiny detail.

“This is my first year diving,” Clark said. “I’ve been diving for like three months.”

It would appear Clark, a former gymnast, is a natural on the board. He competed for years at KMC Gymnastics in Kennett Square, specializing in the floor and vault, the flips and lower-body strength of which translate neatly to diving. After a spate of injuries, Clark sought a lower-impact pursuit. So he tried diving, and in a matter of months, he was just a few points from a states medal. The auspicious start has whetted Clark’s appetite to dive more, perhaps at a club like many of his competitors Saturday, and he already has his eye on trying the three-meter discipline.

The adjustment from gymnastics was notable but not insurmountable. While he had the strength and fundamentals, the biggest change was entering the water hands-first, as many dives but few gymnastics techniques require.

“In gymnastics, we’re taught whatever we do, to find our feet in the air,” Clark said. “But diving, a lot of the dives, you have to land on your hands, so that and the entry is different.”

In sculpting a program, Clark and coach Jim Rightley sought to load up high degree-of-difficulty dives early to ensure progress out of five-dive prelims. Waiting as the 11th dive was a back one-and-a-half twister, carrying a 2.7 DD. A big score there nudged him up a spot from 12th.

As for handling the states spectacle, Clark has experienced big events in gymnastics. But where some competitors aspire to this meet for years, his new-found embrace of diving inspired more calm, blissfully unaware of certain pressures that others felt.

“I feel like it’s a mix of both,” he said. “With gymnastics, regionals, nationals, this is pretty similar to those. But I guess I didn’t realize how good everyone would be or what level their drives would be at. Especially going into districts, I was like, ‘damn.’”

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