To follow the track record of our series on female Greek athletes, we have hunted down and interviewed two time Olympic gold winner in female diving, Christina Loukas. Christina won the gold twice, once in 2008 and again in 2012. In this candid interview, she recounts what it means to win, how her “baba” served as her inspiration, and how it takes harder than hard work to be and champion and stay there.
Here are some short stats on Christina:
- Nine-time national champion (1-meter 2007, 2008, 2009 x2; 3-meter 2010, 2011; synchronized 3-meter 2009, 2010; synchronized 10-meter 2006)
- Won the 2008 U.S. Olympic Team Trials on 3-meter
- Finished as high as second on 3-meter three times at national championship meets before winning her first title on that event in 2010
- Eighth on 3-meter at the 2012 Olympic Games
- Silver medalist on 3-meter synchro at 2012 FINA Diving World Series (Dubai, Tijuana), bronze medalist on 3-meter (Tijuana)
- Fourth on 3-meter at 2011 FINA World Championships in Shanghai (first top-four finish by a U.S. woman on 3-meter at Worlds since 1994)
- Eighth on 3-meter at 2009 FINA World Championships in Rome
- Ninth on 3-meter at 2008 Olympic Games
- Fourth on 3-meter at 2008 FINA World Cup in Beijing
- Silver medalist on 3-meter at 2007 World University Games
- Silver medalist on 3-meter synchro at 2007 Italian Grand Prix, Comunidad de Madrid
What led you to a career in swimming/diving?
I start gymnastics at the age of 3 and stopped at 12 years old. During that time I was involved in every sport that my parents could put me into: basketball, soccer, softball, tennis, swimming, and diving. I only did diving in the summers, but with my gymnastics background I picked it up very quickly. I really enjoyed diving and was starting to get burnt out from gymnastics, so I finally tried club diving at a local club, Windy City Diving. For a little while I did both diving and gymnastics, but eventually switched to diving full time at the age of 12.
How did you know you were born dive?
I don’t know if it ever crossed my mind that I was “born to dive”. I just always loved flipping and twisting. That’s what drew me to gymnastics and eventually diving. The whole reason to do sports is for the enjoyment of it! It wasn’t until high school that I considered myself a competitive diver and thought maybe I could take my diving to the next level and dive collegiately. The thought of making the Olympics didn’t become a real goal of mine until college diving.
To what extent did your Greek heritage influence your career, your life, your perspective of life?
My father comes from a small village in Greece, Tarsina. When his family first came to America they were poor and had to work hard for everything they had. To see all of his hard work and the success my dad and his siblings have had has been very inspirational for me. I know success doesn’t come easy and I knew that I needed that same dedication and hard work to achieve my own goals both inside and outside of the pool.
The thing I love most about my Greek heritage is how supportive other Greeks have been from all over the world. When people saw my last name and realized I was a Greek girl they immediately became a fan and followed my career. It was very humbling knowing how many people, strangers, supported me. Being Greek is more than just being from a country, but it is a community of loving, passionate people that are proud of their heritage. I am so fortunate to be part of such a great community and I cannot thank them enough for their continued support throughout my career.
Did you encounter any conflicts due to your sex or the expectations of being a “good Greek girl” with your goals of pursuing your career? Do you carry any cultural baggage?
I never encountered any conflicts due to sex. I just remember as a kid I always wanted to play sports with the boys. I hated to dress nice and “act like a lady”.
Who are your role models? Explain why.
My dad. As I mentioned earlier he didn’t grow up in the best situation financially. But seeing the hard work he put in and the results made me want to strive to be the best too. He has been an inspiration for me and setting my own goals and what it takes to accomplish them.
Laura Wilkinson. Former teammate, World Champion, Olympic Champion 2000. Laura was one of those people that had such a passion for the sport. I always looked up to her before I even got to know her personally. She was my biggest role model in the sport of diving because I admired the way she carried herself. When I was living in The Woodlands, Texas to train with her coach Kenny Armstrong she was also my mentor. If I was having a hard time with something, she and I would go grab a coffee and talk about it. It was amazing hearing all of her stories of struggle. And ways that she was able to overcome them.
How difficult is it for women to stay afloat in a career of competitive diving/swimming?
Diving is one of those sports that doesn’t get too much attention. Our biggest competition is the Olympic Games, so once every 4 years people are interested in watching. The hardest part about being a diver is the financial aspect of it. Most people have to retire once they graduate college because of this. In other sports such as basketball, football, track and field, there are many more opportunities to make money.
Describe your typical day. Describe your journey to the Olympics. How does it happen?
Training for 2012 Olympics: When I was training, full time diving was my job. I would wake up around 7:00am to make a big breakfast. I would train in the dry land room from 8:30-9:45am. This is where I did trampoline work, my boardwork (diving board and then flip onto a mat), plyometrics, flexibility, etc. 10:00-11:30am would be my morning water workout where I would focus on my entries (getting into the water with no splash). I would then take a break to rest and eat lunch. 2:30-4 was my afternoon workout where I would work on my actual competition dives. After practice I would usually end with a weight workout with a trainer, pilates, or yoga.
When I was training for my first Olympics in 2008 I was a full-time college student as well, which meant I would train 5-6 hours a day on top of a full class schedule.
Making the Olympics is a process. For my event there were 2 spots available for the USA team. This meant I had to take 1st or 2nd at Olympic trials to get on the team. To make the Olympic trials you have to place in the finals (top 12) at a National Championship event in the previous years. Basically, making the Olympics comes down to whoever performs the best that day. To me this was both good and bad- but in the end the people who earned the spots proved they were both physically and mentally strong.
Tell us about your actual victories at the Olympics. How did they happen?
In 2008 my goal was making the Olympic team. Once I made the team my next goal was to make the finals at the Olympic Games. Overall, I performed very well and was happy with my 9th place finish.
In 2012 I had a different mindset. My goal was not making the Olympic Team, but winning the gold medal at the Olympics. I ended up not performing as well as I wanted to and finished 8th. I was definitely disappointed with my performance, but comparing it to the ’08 Games I realized how far I had come. I had a bad meet and still finished better than I did at my last Olympics.
Tell us your life since that time. What are your goals and dreams for the future?
After the London Olympics, I went back to Houston and was immediately ready to move back home to Chicago. I was at the point in my career that I was happy with everything I accomplished and was ready to move onto the next chapter of my life.
After the Olympics I decided to pursue a career in physical therapy. I have been at DePaul University in Lincoln Park this past year working in the training room with their physical therapists and taking some prerequisite courses. I applied to PT schools this past fall and will be starting a PT program Fall 2014 (still trying to decide which school to go to!)
How are you giving back to your Hellenic Roots? What advice would you give Greek women athletes?
I try to give back when I can. I have gone to church functions to speak with kids of all ages. Bringing them pictures, medals, and telling them stories of my career. My goal every time is to try and motivate them or inspire them to be great. Something I try to make others understand is that yes, I was a talented diver, but I would never have achieved all of my accomplishments without the constant dedication to the sport. It takes so much hard work to get to the top, but even more to stay there. And no matter how good of an athlete you are, there will always be obstacles to be overcome.
Advice I would give other female athletes is to dream big and don’t give up. I wasn’t always the best diver. Or the most consistent. But every year at National Championships I always tried to do a little better. At the beginning of my diving career I was finishing almost dead last at Junior Nationals. By the time I finished high school I was at the top of my age group, finishing in the top 3 consistently. You don’t become the best overnight!
Diving is an individual sport so all the pressure was on me. I couldn’t control my competitors and how they performed. Realizing this made me understand that I had to be responsible for my diving. Everything I did inside and outside the pool counted. And that I needed to do everything in my power to make me the toughest competitor. It was hard preparing for my last competition ever. I felt like there was a lot of pressure to perform my absolute best to go out on a high note. My coach had to pull me aside leading up to the Olympics and remind me that I trained hard, ate right, made responsible decisions. That I had left no stone unturned. No matter the outcome I could be happy and proud of myself because it had been an amazing journey getting there.
Christina is the daughter of George and Patty Loukas. She has two brothers, Nick and Kosta, and one sister, Stacey. She trained with coach Jeff Huber at Indiana University/Indiana Diving through the 2010 Winter Nationals. She then took some time off from diving and began training in Texas with Ken Armstrong in the fall of 2010. Christina enjoys being outside, being active and cooking. She’s also a big Chicago Cubs fan, and her family owns the Cubby Bear lounge and a number of rooftop buildings around the Wrigleyville area in Chicago. Christina comes from a family of football players. Her dad played at Southern Illinois, her uncle Angelo Loukas played football for Northwestern and the Buffalo Bills, her uncle Anthony Loukas played at Wisconsin, and her cousin Alex Loukas played at Stanford.
Christina, you make both sides of us proud–the Greek and the American! Check out these pics as Christine creates poetry in motion, torquing and spiraling in air and water in a graceful, dynamic dance. Exhilarating! Weaving through both elements with force and beauty like a dolphin.