AUSTIN (KXAN) — Surrounded by some of the country’s best swimmers and divers, Alison Gibson was “fearless.”
“I just wasn’t afraid of talking to anybody, so I literally would just walk around and just meet everybody on the pool deck,” Gibson remembered. “It was crazy. I don’t know how I did it.”
The 9-year-old had just started swimming at the Lee & Joe Jamail Texas Swimming Center at the University of Texas at Austin and was putting her young networking skills to the test.
“I had been watching the Olympics my whole life, basically since I was really young, so I knew who Eddie Reese was, I knew Aaron Peirsol, Ian Crocker and Brendan Hanson,” she said. “I knew all the big names and I knew that they swam here, so my goal was to get to know them.”
One of those people would be longtime Texas Head Diving Coach Matt Scoggin.
“Alison is a competitor,” Scoggin said. It was the first thing he noticed about the young swimmer. “Then, I noticed that at the end of the workout she would come by and say hi to Eddie, Kris Kubik, myself and just sit down for 30 minutes and just talk. Although she was small in stature at age 9, she has a big heart, so immediately we started calling her Big Al.”
Scoggin would serve as the catalyst Gibson needed to make the transition from swimmer to diver.
“After one of her swimming workouts when she was like age 10 and I had a minute when I wasn’t coaching I looked over at her and I said, ‘Hey, let me see your toe point,'” Scoggin said. “She pointed her feet and I immediately saw they were the best feet in the business and I was like, ‘How tall is your dad? How tall is your mom? You’d be a great diver,’ and she looked at me like, ‘Really?’ and I said, ‘Oh yeah,'”
Gibson’s hard work and personality would leave a lasting impression.
“When she was just beginning her senior year in high school, and the NCAA allowed you to contact them, I wrote her a letter and said I hope you have an interest in the University of Texas, you’d be fantastic,” Scoggin said.
The young diver remembers how she felt the day she received the letter.
“I literally screamed and I think I fell on the floor,” Gibson said smiling. “I was like, ‘Oh my God, he wants to recruit me.'”
Next month, Gibson will make her Olympic debut alongside her synchronized diving partner Krysta Palmer. The duo was the first during the U.S. Olympic Diving Trials to punch their tickets to Tokyo. The pair will compete in the women’s Synchronized 3-meter springboard event. Gibson is ready to take on the challenge and remembers to keep herself grounded.
“I didn’t start this to become an Olympian necessarily, I didn’t start this to become famous or anything like that I started because it was fun and so reminding myself of that really takes the pressure off and allows me to really go back to having fun with it,” she said.
Gibson will have her coach leading her through the Games. Scoggin has been selected to serve as the diving team’s assistant coach. This will mark his fourth Olympics as a coach.
“When I was a young boy and had dreams of one day making it to the Olympics and I was fortunate to make it in 1992 and to be asked back as a coach to help young people go for their dreams that’s like a candy store for me I’m so excited to just be a part of their dream,” Scoggin said.
Gibson was not the only Texas Longhorn to make the U.S. Diving Team. Two other divers qualified for Team USA, including Jordan Windle in the men’s 10-meter Platform event and incoming freshman Hailey Hernandez in the women’s 3-meter Springboard. The Olympics diving competition kicks off July 25 with the finals on August 7 at the Tokyo Aquatics Center.