In one of the most challenging events across the sports world, one in which even the biggest errors can be measured in mere centimeters, Yu Zhou has been a model of consistency. As one of the nation’s premier diving talents, she has made a splash, figuratively speaking, by creating very little splash as she has entered the water the past two years.
Known as Shelly to her teammates, Zhou competes in all three diving disciplines (one-meter, three-meter and platform). That means she has had six chances to win conference titles and All-America honors during her two seasons with Minnesota. In both cases, she’s made good on five of those six opportunities, highlighted by the 2015 national title in the three-meter.
“I feel like last year [winning the national title], I was so lucky,” said Zhou. “For diving, the one thing is, even if you train for a long time and day-by-day, there is still 1,000 possibilities of what will happen at the meet.”
Her thoughts on her national championship performance reflects the nature of the sport. A diver can do the same dive exactly the same 999 times, but the slightest error on the thousandth attempt could be the difference between finishing first at the NCAA Championships and not even finishing as an All-American.
The training for a sport with microscopic winning margins can be grueling – “sometimes it’s boring and sometimes it’s really hard,” said Zhou – the latter a reflection of the sport itself. Zhou’s attitude toward training offers clues as to her amazing execution when her dives count for points.
“You have to push your limit [and then] push harder, because everyone has a chance to be a champion,” Zhou said about her training mindset. “Being the NCAA champion is always my goal. One-meter, three-meter, platform, I always think I have a chance. [At] every day’s practice, I’m thinking about these goals … you have to keep those goals in mind so you can push harder.”
She’s once reached that NCAA championship goal, adding silver- and bronze-medal performances as well (2016 platform and 2015 one-meter, respectively). Taken together, Zhou has reached the medal stand in each diving discipline at NCAAs.
Meanwhile, at the conference level, she has been virtually unbeatable. She took home two of the three diving titles at last year’s Big Ten meet (she finished as the runner-up on platform) before sweeping all three crowns at this year’s event. In both seasons, Zhou has been honored at the Big Ten Diver of the Year, as well as the Big Ten Diver of the Championships.
The five-time Big Ten champion and five-time All-American sees her success, and the success of other female Gopher student-athletes, as a chance to be recognized as athletes equally talented as their male counterparts, or maybe even better.
“[Our success] can help female athletes to be recognized,” Zhou said. “People always think of female athletes [like] they are weaker. But the thing is … we can do better. Sometimes we can beat the men.”
NCAA Diver of the Year
Five-time Big Ten Champion