Souhan: Viola, dad share bond of big-stage pressure

  • Article by: JIM SOUHAN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: August 9, 2012 - 10:20 AM

The young diver faced down the daunting weight of her first Olympic competition and did more than just get her feet wet.

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LONDON - Frank Viola can't teach his daughter anything about diving. He's afraid of heights. "I've never seen him dive from higher than this," Brittany Viola said, holding her hand at knee level. "He can't even walk around up there."

When the 10-meter platform competition began on Wednesday, though, and Brittany was chosen to dive first in front of a packed house at the Aquatics Center, and she felt herself trembling at the start of her first Olympic event, she drew, innately, from her father.

Diving and pitching have one thing in common: that moment of anticipation and calculation before the body begins to move -- that moment of equipoise. In that moment Frank Viola's daughter found calm. She finished 14th out of 26 divers, with the top 18 advancing to Thursday's semifinals, and felt she had survived one of the toughest tests of her career.

"He doesn't really talk about things like that unless probed," Brittany said. "But we definitely see that similarity in having that same kind of focus and confidence in our abilities. He did have to start the game in the same way, so it was kind of cool to do the same thing.

"There was one point where I felt a little bit of nerves, and it was interesting when my mind went there. I told myself, you've done this many times, and I was ready.''

Frank wasn't. The ace of the 1987 World Series-winning Twins sat in the stands with his wife, Kathy, wishing he could have dealt with less stress, like pitching in front of 60,000 people.

"That's the worst I've ever been," he said. "Because I have no control. At least when I went out on that field, I had the ball in my hand. I was in control. As a parent, you have no control. You just have to sit there."

On one of her five attempts, Brittany came so close to the platform that it appeared her ponytail made contact before she tumbled past. How can a parent watch that?

"I think the toughest part, in all honesty, is trying to get through the prelims," Frank said. "The fact that she's never been in the Olympics before, she must have had an incredible adrenaline flow. It's simple -- she had to get into the top 18, and she did.

"She's never competed in front of a crowd like that. I really believe you'll see a much better Brittany tomorrow, and it wasn't a bad one tonight."

Viola ranked as high as eighth during the five-dive competition. "Oh, I'm definitely happy about that," she said. "I get to move on to the next round and start over. I'm just enjoying myself and this opportunity. If I'm supposed to be in the finals, I'll be in it."

Brittany didn't think she'd see Frank before her event. He arrived in London on Tuesday. "She's like me before she competes," Frank said. "She doesn't want to talk much or see anybody, she just wants to concentrate."

The two just happened to run into each other on Tuesday, though, and "I jumped on him. It was so good to see him, to have my dad here for this."

Minnesotans will always remember Frankie "Sweet Music" Viola as a great pitcher who made the 1987 championship possible. His daughter, 25, was born in Minneapolis that same year.

But Frank works for the Mets organization and lives in Florida. Brittany attended college in Florida and lists Miami as her residence. How much connection does the family have to Minnesota at this point?

"There's always going to be a connection," Brittany said. "Just being born there and knowing the history that my dad had in that city, that state, it's unreal.

"So if I can be included in that somehow, if I for some reason can bring joy to the city or the state, what more could I ask for?"

Her father might ask for Tums.

Jim Souhan can be heard Sundays from 10 a.m. to noon and weekdays at 2 p.m on 1500-AM. His Twitter name is SouhanStrib. • jsouhan@startribune.com

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