Only on the last dive of a meet does Peter Smithson want to see his scores.
On the final dive of his illustrious high school career, Smithson swam quickly to the side of the pool. The Collins Hill phenom was just in time to see record scores — including a 10.
“Peter, if you want to relate it to swimming, he lapped his competition,” Eagles head coach Jenny Weaver said. “He didn’t even need the final dive. He would have been state champ at 11 instead of 12.”
Smithson, the Daily Post’s Boys Diver of the Year for the third straight year, was the first to win state with a new 12-dive format. It’s hard to be sure how the 762.35 points will stand the test of time, but there’s a good chance Smithson’s name will be at the top of the heat sheets as the state record holder for a long time.
“I mean, hopefully,” Smithson said with an endearing smile. “I would want it to. With the (degree of difficulty) I put in, it was all of my hardest dives really so hopefully it’ll stay up there for a while.
“I prefer the six dives (after preliminaries) because it’s all higher degree of difficulty and that’s where I can shine. With voluntaries, everyone is doing the same dives. There are no more voluntaries so people are going to have to match my DDs to do it.”
“And with getting a 10 on the last dive,” Weaver said, “you don’t see those very often at state.
“It’ll be interesting in the upcoming years to really see how it lands, but I think his impact on Georgia diving … he’s made history.”
To put some more perspective on his score this year, Smithson won by 87.2 points. With one extra dive, Smithson outpaced Jack Nyquist’s state record of 629.80 by 132.55 points.
“I think, hopefully, I left an impact,” Smithson said. “The guys coming up, I think I’ve given them a goal to reach toward. It won’t just be reaching for Nyquist’s record. Carson Tyler is a freshman (at Colquitt County who finished third at state) and he was telling me he really wants to beat that record.
“I think it motivates them and leaves an impact.”
Smithson finished his career as a three-time state champion and four-time county champion. The last time he didn’t win a high school meet was when he finished third at state as a freshman.
He counts that meet, though it put him on the map, as a low that only fueled the last three years.
“I wanted all four years,” Smithson said. “Obviously that wasn’t the case, but that kind of drove me to wanting the next three years. I think I wanted it more the next three years than I did freshman year. I think that was the change in gear.
“Through experience, every year made me more confident in it.”
This year’s state meet counts as one of the highs, though it didn’t get off to an amazing start. He was nearly in fifth after two rounds.
“As a freshman, or even a sophomore, if I saw I was in fifth, I think that would have been very discouraging,” Smithson said. “But I didn’t let it get to me, knowing what DDs I had left.”
He still does his best to avoid seeing the scoreboard for most of the meet.
“Most of the time I run back to the hot tub, run back to my headphones,” he said. “I don’t like to pay attention too much to the score — it’ll get in my head.”
Smithson has always been good at appreciating the moments of his success though. As a sophomore, he was a virtual lock for the title with one dive remaining. Smithson took a moment, balancing lightly at the end of the board, to soak it all in.
Weaver was impressed with his poise and maturity, then and now.
“If I’ve ever seen somebody have such a head on their shoulders,” she said, looking at Smithson, “for whatever dream you want, it’s yours.
“I’m not talking about diving at all. I’m talking about you as a person. You’re ready for whatever you want. I have no idea where you’ll land, but it’s going to be a great place.”
Smithson, looking just a little sheepish, thanked Weaver.
“Hopefully in Paris,” Weaver added with a laugh.
Smithson has his sights set on the 2024 Olympics. His soon-to-be coach at Southern Methodist University already has a syncro partner in mind for Smithson, too.
“He thinks Paris is the ultimate goal in 2024,” Smithson said.
That attitude is one of the reasons Smithson eschewed offers from SEC, ACC and Big 10 schools in favor of SMU.
“A lot of people do ask me, ‘Why there?’” he said. “The biggest thing for me was the culture of the team and the coach. I’ve known the coach for years now. I went to a camp freshman year and he’s kind of been keeping up with me.
“He has a lot of goals for me that I didn’t necessarily hear from the other coaches. Specific goals for me and really wants to see me succeed in the sport. We just really clicked with that.”
Smithson likes that he’s picky.
“He’s a very technical coach,” he said. “That’s one of the things I chose him for. He’ll break down one little movement in very slow-motion video. He’ll spend hours studying it before practice so by the time you come in, he knows what you need to do for that practice.”
Smithson can’t wait to get started — despite several more months of high school and a number of big meets with Georgia Dive Club on the immediate horizon.
“I’m ready for the next thing in my life for sure,” he said with a laugh. “A lot of people are scared to go out there and want to spend all summer here, but I’m excited to get with the program and see what’s next.”