Oct. 3, 2013
Dick Kimball is synonymous with the sport of diving. He won two NCAA titles in 1957 and later served as Michigan's head diving coach from 1960-2002. A true pioneer of the sport, Kimball coached in five Olympic Games and tutored several gold medal-winning divers in the process. Now 78 years old, Kimball returned to Canham Natatorium on Sept. 28 for the second annual Michigan Water Carnival, performing his trademark comedy diving show with the Michigan men's and women's divers.
Q: When did you discover your passion for diving?
A: Way back when I was about four years old. My high school coach started having me come to work out with the varsity when I was in fifth grade. Back then, the junior high and senior high were together, so I started diving as a seventh grader and took ninth in the state. Then, when I was in eighth grade, I was third. In high school, I went four years unbeaten in the Minnesota state championships.
Q: What prompted you to start a comedy diving show? How did that come about?
A: I've done comedy for years. We used to be on the road all summer long doing shows at country clubs. Up in Minneapolis, we had dived for two weeks with 200 people in the cast. We had a full orchestra, dancers, swimmers, everything. Then, we went to Seattle for two weeks and outside of that, we went up to New York. It was all over the country.
Q: Even at 78 years old, what motivates you to continue to dive? Did you ever think about calling it quits?
A: I like seeing the group of kids getting together and doing something together outside of just diving. It makes it a lot more fun for them. As for retiring from the actual diving part, haven't really gotten there yet. The last thing my wife told me was, "No more diving without putting your hands up." That's the last thing Mike [Bottom] told me too, so I had to sign a waiver to do it.
Q: What was your philosophy when it came to coaching? What about diving?
A: I'm not a screaming or yelling kind of coach. If there's any problem with a diver, we'll go to my office and discuss it, but with most of the kids, I don't believe anybody can't do anything. Every diver I've ever had, that's what I tell them. All divers have to have risk-taking personalities. They may not think so, but when you get up there and look down ... You should walk up there and take a look.
Q: What are some of the opportunities that diving opened up for you?
A: I retired in 2002. I've been on the road eight-to-ten weeks doing camps all over the country. It's really fun to go back and work with young kids, from age group up to high school.
Q: Out of all of your many accomplishments, what's your greatest one?
A: I would say in terms of having an Olympic champion, probably Micki King, because when she came here, she hadn't even done a front two-and-a-half and she ends up winning the Olympic Games. She dove in the Military Games against the boys and took third. She is and has been a real spokeswoman for women's athletics. Before winning in 1972, she was there in 1968 and was leading after nine dives. On her ninth dive, she broke her arm hitting the board. She did her last dive with a broken arm and ended up fourth. She stayed around for four more years and won the Olympic Games. It's an incredible story.
Q: What has been the single greatest piece of advice you've ever been given?
A: I think it has to be from my high school coach, who was actually from Sweden. He came over here when he was 13 years old. He was a great coach and not even a diving coach, but a swimming coach. He was a swimmer and a track guy. He encouraged me to study hard so I could get a scholarship and that was so important. Matt Mann, the coach here at the time, was a big part of that, too. The mandatory retirement age was 70. They made him retire and that was the year my coach came in while I was down at Oklahoma diving for my freshman year. I transferred here and Matt went to Oklahoma and coached five more years. The other end of the pool is named after Matt Mann. His picture is up. That was very significant because it changed my whole life.
Q: You were an athlete and later a longtime diving coach here at the University of Michigan. Any idea where you would be without those experiences?
A: I don't think so because it's so important to set goals and I do that with every diver on the team. Everybody can do a lot more than they think they can. Just go up on the tower. Being a diver and a tower diver are different. The ones that are tower divers like it. The other ones are up there shaking. It's just fun to be around college kids because there's always a new challenge. They're no different than they were 15 years ago. It's just a different set of bodies.