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Loukas adjusts to newfound celebrity



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USA's Christina Loukas of Riverwoods, Illinois, does a forward 3-1/2 somersault dive while competing in the women's 3M Springboard finals on Sunday, August 17, 2008, in the Games of the XXIX Olympiad in Beijing, China. Buy Photos

Every morning, senior Christina Loukas watches “Saved by the Bell” while she makes breakfast. In her free time, she enjoys baking and putting together puzzles.
 
She is your average, everyday girl from Chicago’s north side.

But one huge difference between Loukas and anyone else on this campus is a ninth-place finish on the 3-meter springboard at the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games.

“I get kind of embarrassed when people point it out,” she said. “(My friends) thought it was cool their friend was an Olympian. I just don’t like it when people say, ‘This is my friend. She’s an Olympian.’ It is just kind of embarrassing.”

Loukas, a former gymnast of nine years, started diving when she was 12 and has since become a Big Ten Champion and one of the most decorated divers in school history. She won the Olympic Trials in June to make the U.S. team. 

“Going into the Olympics, I knew exactly what to expect,” she said. “I knew who my competitors were and I knew there were going to be cameras everywhere. I dove at that pool before. That’s usually what I see at Big Tens and NCAAs.”

Despite her confidence, she said she couldn’t help but relish the moment.

“I wasn’t really thinking about the world watching me,” she said. “I was thinking more of me being in that moment, and I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, I’m actually here. I made it.’”

Being in the moment included time with the stars. Loukas, who dined just tables away from Yao Ming daily and became giddy at the sight of gymnast Shawn Johnson in the Olympic Village, went into fan mode outside of the pool. 

“I got to take a picture with Kobe Bryant, LeBron James and Chris Paul. I didn’t even know who he was when I met him, which is really embarrassing because he’s really good,” the curly-haired Cubs fan said. “We would see those people, and that’s when I felt like such a dork.”

Regardless of how star-struck she was, Loukas’ efforts in her event earned 315.70 points, second among American divers at the games and ninth overall. 

Amid the settling dust that is Olympic aftermath, Loukas stepped back onto the springboard at IU’s Counsilman-Billingsley Aquatic Center this fall for her final year of eligibility. Last season, she redshirted her senior year, taking only six credit hours a semester to focus on her Olympic dream.

Last month, she scored 400.75 on the 3-meter at the Big Ten Championships in Ann Arbor, Mich., setting a Big Ten Record in the event. Loukas was also named to the USA Diving 2009 World Championship team.

“I’ve been here 20 years and have never seen a woman break 400,” diving coach Jeff Huber said, “so I knew it was a record without having to ask.”

Huber, who recruited and trained Loukas her entire collegiate career, was a coach for the U.S. Olympic diving team as well.

Future plans for Loukas include graduate school at IU, where she plans to train with Huber to make it in the 2012 Summer Olympic Games in London. Huber said some goals include becoming more lean, working on entry and mastering her front three-and-a-half as well as her two-and-a-half pike.

“She’s very, very coachable, very bright and responds well,” Huber said. “If you give her a few things to work on, she gets the job done. She is everything you want to see in an athlete.”

Loukas has had to make the adjustment back to being a normal collegiate diver after performing on the world stage. 

Caitlin Heyman, Loukas’ roommate and teammate, said Loukas still receives flowers and cards in the mail.

“She’s still writing thank-you notes to people who have been sending her flowers,” Heyman said.

Loukas has experienced a taste of the celebrity life in both her native Riverwoods, Ill., as well as in Bloomington.

“I’m not that famous, but one thing I do make sure to do when I sign an autograph is to make my name legible because I always hated when I was little, these people would just scribble something,” she said. “So I just try to make sure you can totally tell it’s me.”

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