By Martin Cleary
International diver Kate Miller of Ottawa walked across her high school stage earlier this week to receive her Grade 12 graduation diploma and sign off on another academic chapter in her life.
And now university.
But not just yet for the honors high school student.
The Nepean-Ottawa Diving Club athlete trained for the last two years at the high-performance Toronto Diving Academy and graduated from Birchmount Park Collegiate Institute, but before taking that next giant academic step, she has her own special plan.
Miller, 18, is taking a gap year, time to herself, time to focus strictly on a single objective.
Unlike other high school grads, who may want to travel or work for a year before heading to university, Miller is dedicating herself to earning a berth on the Canadian Olympic team for the 2024 Summer Games in Paris.
She wants to gain as much experience as she can in a short timeframe to compete in the Olympic women’s 10-metre platform synchronized event with Calgary’s Caeli McKay, who has had plenty of success in that discipline. Miller, on the other hand, only started platform synchro late last year.
But Miller has found good success in her seven months in platform synchro. In their first international meet at the Montreal World Cup in May, she teamed with McKay to finish fifth.
At her first world junior diving championships, Miller and Canadian teammate Sonya Palkhivala won the gold medal in the women’s three-metre synchronized event.
At the end of August, Miller will move to Montreal, rent an apartment and train at the Montreal Olympic Park Sports Centre with McKay. She’ll also spend three weeks in Montreal preparing for the upcoming world aquatics championships July 14-30 in Fukuoka, Japan. They will take their preliminary dives in the women’s 10-metre platform synchro event on July 15. The final is scheduled for July 16.
The worlds are a critical first step to making the Paris Olympics. A top-three result would automatically secure an Olympic berth for Miller and McKay.
The second and final opportunity to advance to the 2024 Olympics comes at next year’s world aquatics championships Feb. 2-18 in Doha, Qatar. The top-ranking teams that didn’t qualify at the Fukuoka worlds will fill four more spots. There will be eight teams in total, including France as the host nation.
“I’ll train in Montreal for three weeks (with McKay),” Miller added. “We’re a good connection. Every week we’ll get better and better. We’ll get to know one another, react to each other and work with one another.
“I want to train a lot more synchro to get a lot better. The (national team) coaches are there to make us better. There are so many benefits for you to train there. It’s a really good environment.”
They’ll be coached by the national team’s Yihua Li, who has worked with McKay since 2016 at the Pointe-Claire Diving Club. Li was a former Chinese team diver in the 1980s and was named Swimming Magazine’s best springboard diver in 1983. She moved to Canada in 1990.
By virtue of becoming a solid 10-metre platform diver, Miller was selected by Canadian team officials to become McKay’s new partner last year.
McKay, 24, previously had a lengthy partnership in 10-metre platform synchro with Meaghan Benfeito, placing fourth at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, winning gold at the 2019 Pan Am Games and taking silver at the 2018 Commonwealth Games. They also were fourth at the 2019 and 2017 world championships.
“Our goal at worlds will be to do our best,” said Miller, who narrowly missed a second medal at the 2022 world junior championships, when she was fourth in the 10-metre platform individually. “We want to do all our dives the best we can. It’s that plain and simple.”
If all goes according to plan, Miller will move into university mode in the fall of 2024. Her destination could be Los Angeles, where she has given a verbal commitment to accepting an athletic scholarship at the University of Southern California.
By following that route, she’ll be training in the city where the 2028 Summer Olympic Games will held. The divers won’t compete at the same USC diving venue that was used for the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics.
Instead, the Dedeaux Field, which is home to the baseball team, will be converted to a temporary Olympic competition site for swimming, diving and artistic swimming.
“I did visit USC with my mom (Liz). It was a good environment. I liked the coach and the diving team,” Miller explained. “The USC diving program is really good. You can see that as the good people are improving.”
If Miller fully commits to USC, she’ll not only compete in a solid program, but also will make the 2028 Olympic site feel like a second home from 2024-28.
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