Kassidy Cook said it starts with the basics. She and Sarah Bacon have similar diving styles, techniques and body types, the foundation necessary for any synchronized diving tandem to become mirror images of each other.
It's their unity on dry land, though, that could carry them to the Olympics.
Bacon, the former Gophers diver, and Cook, a 2016 Olympian, have been friends for more than a decade. They hang out together. They buy matching clothes. Even their names — now a Twitter hashtag, #CookNBacon — suggest a pairing that was meant to be.
"We've known each other since we were 10 years old," Bacon said. "If you can find a partner where you get along with them and have fun with them, it just makes synchro and diving way more enjoyable."
The reigning national champions, Bacon and Cook will start this week's U.S. Olympic trials as a duo, competing in Sunday's preliminaries of the women's 3-meter synchronized event. Tuesday, Bacon will go solo, in the prelims of the women's 3-meter individual in her hometown of Indianapolis.
Cook, who has a shoulder injury, also will dive in the individual event if she is healthy enough. Should that happen, the two said they would be cheering for each other, as they have since their early days on the pool deck.
"A very important part of this for me and Sarah is having a good friendship," said Cook, a 10-time national champion from The Woodlands, Texas. "We've always been really close, and we're even closer now.
"When I'm up there with her, I not only want to do well for myself. I also want to do well for her. Having that kind of chemistry is really important."
Rolling in 2021
Bacon enters her second Olympic trials in the midst of a remarkable year. She finished her Gophers career in March as a four-time NCAA champion, winning her third title on the 1-meter board and her first on 3-meter. That earned her the Honda Sport Award as the nation's top athlete in women's swimming and diving.
Six weeks later, Bacon and Cook traveled to Tokyo and finished fifth at a World Cup event, bringing the U.S. an Olympic berth in women's 3-meter synchronized. Bacon followed that up with a silver medal in the women's 3-meter individual, the first World Cup springboard medal for an American woman since 1989.
Dan Laak, director of high performance for USA Diving, called it "a great day" for Bacon. Under the guidance of Gophers diving coach Wenbo Chen, she has steadily erased her reputation as a 1-meter specialist through two years of intensive work on her 3-meter form.
"Over the years, we have seen her develop into a true competitor," Laak said. "To see it come to fruition and have her make history is a testament to her work ethic."
Bacon's partnership with Cook is a relatively new development. Bacon has competed in 3-meter synchronized events for most of her career, pairing with former Gophers teammate Kristen Hayden for silver and bronze medals at the U.S. championships in 2018 and 2019.
Cook had retired from diving following the 2016 Olympics, stepping away from the mental and physical grind after three shoulder surgeries. As her body healed, she realized she missed the sport. In late 2019 — less than a year before the original dates for the Tokyo Olympics — Cook decided to return, and she approached Bacon about teaming up.
They clicked instantly. After winning the 2019 winter nationals, Cook and Bacon made their international debut, earning gold medals at Grand Prix events in Spain and Germany.
Then came the pandemic. The meet cancellations, travel disruptions and pool closures complicated their ability to train together, but Cook found some benefit in having the Olympics delayed by a year.
"It gave me more time to get back to full form," she said. "And having Sarah a phone call or text away really helped on the days where I was down or needed motivation. We could pick each other up and encourage one another to keep going."
Always in sync
Cook and Bacon have resumed meeting in Texas or Minnesota for monthly training sessions, but they still do much of their work separately. Bacon said their coaches communicate daily to coordinate workout plans, and the pair has done workouts together via Zoom.
Their bond has helped them weather difficult times. At the World Cup in May, Bacon tried to keep Cook's spirits up as she dealt with severe pain in her right shoulder. In ninth place after their second dive, they came through with their highest-scoring dive on their final attempt, qualifying the U.S. for the Olympics.
"Once we knew we secured the Olympic quota spot, a flood of emotions came from both of us," Bacon said. "I'm just so proud of Kassidy for pushing through."
They will have to push through again this week to earn the right to compete at the Olympics. Their friendship, Cook said, is powerful motivation.
"Me and Sarah have been working really hard," Cook said. "I have a lot of confidence in our partnership to get on that podium at the Olympics.
"I'm just really excited to see what this year has to hold. It would be awesome to be able to share Sarah's first Olympics with her."