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‘Bad dives happen to good people:’ Duke med school student Abby Johnston finishes 12th

Abby Johnston of the United States competes in the Women's Diving 3m Springboard Final of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games at Maria Lenk Aquatics Centre on August 14, 2016 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
Abby Johnston of the United States competes in the Women's Diving 3m Springboard Final of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games at Maria Lenk Aquatics Centre on August 14, 2016 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Getty Images

Abby Johnston’s last diving competition didn’t work out the way she wanted it to, as her chances for an Olympic medal evaporated with one errant dive.

Johnston ended up finishing last in the 3-meter springboard finals — 12th out of 12 — after she missed the landing badly on the third of her five dives at the Maria Lenk Aquatics Centre.

“Sometimes you miss and sometimes you hit,” she said. “Bad dives happen to good people.”

Johnston has a lot more good things coming. A former standout Duke diver, she will start her third year of medical school at Duke this month. Johnston also is engaged to Duke assistant football coach Sam McGrath, who had to rush to the Rio airport immediately after her competition Sunday afternoon in Brazil. But he first saw Johnston briefly and gave her a bouquet of flowers.

“I start school nine days from now,” said Johnston, 26, who had said all along she would retire from competition after these Olympics. “I’ll be doing my clinical rotations and planning a wedding. So I do have a lot to look forward to, and I am happy to close this chapter of my life.”

Johnston won a silver medal in 2012 at the London Olympics in synchronized diving. This time she competed by herself. She was the highest-finishing American in her competition.

She dove all weekend in a diving pool that had turned a murky green and looked more like Shrek’s swamp than an Olympic venue. Olympic organizers said the green color had been caused by a large infusion of hydrogen peroxide, which neutralized the pool’s chlorine and allowed algae to bloom.

“I was a little worried about the sanitary conditions,” third-place finisher Tania Cagnotto said of the green pool.

Johnston had joked earlier in the competition that she was going to send the Olympics her “hair-dye bill” if her blonde hair turned green.

“It looked a little better today — maybe,” Johnston said of the pool’s color. While another green pool right next door had its water drained and refilled so that synchronized swimmers could see each other underwater — a requirement in their sport — the diving pool water was not changed.

POOL DECK PROPOSAL: After Johnston’s competition concluded, there was a nice moment on the pool deck. Silver medalist He Zi got surprised by a marriage proposal in front of the large crowd by male Chinese diver Qin Kai. After he gave a long speech to her on one knee, she nodded her head “yes.”

FLANAGAN’S FINISH: Former North Carolina standout runner Shalane Flanagan finished sixth in the women’s marathon Sunday. Flanagan was the highest American finisher in a time of two hours, 25 minutes and 26 seconds.

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