Yu Zhou just finished one of the most successful individual careers in Gophers sports history. Last week, she won her second NCAA title in 3-meter diving, which was followed by her winning Big Ten Diver of the Year honors for the third time. Zhou, a senior, chatted about those accomplishments and more with the Star Tribune’s Michael Rand:
Q What was your mind-set going into your final NCAA meet?
A I always have the same goal of trying to win the nationals, but this year one thing that changed was I felt like it was more about myself during the competition. In the past, I was looking at other people and how they were performing. This year I was only focused on me and giving it my best shot because I knew it was my last chance to perform.
Q Diving is such a precise discipline. What is the training like, and how do you approach something where you’re doing the same thing over and over to perfect it?
A At the U, we train every day and try to repeat the dives so many times. In practice, I imagine that it’s a competition. With every dive, I try to do my best. In a meet, I try to think that it’s just like practice and it’s the same thing I do every day. It helps me relax during a meet.
Q What goes through your head right before you leave the platform and head toward the water?
A I just think through my technique of the dive, then take a deep breath and try to relax. I think one thing that’s really important is to feel normal. We’ve been training for a long time, and our muscles have those memories. If you allow yourself to feel and breathe normally, your muscles can let your body do the rest of the work.
Q You came here originally from China, and I know a lot of that was motivated by wanting to work with diving coach Wenbo Chen. What was that decision and journey like for you?
A Wenbo recruited me, and I was very surprised and happy. It was such a new world for me. Once I came here, I started a new chapter of life. It changed my whole future in a way. When I came here, the whole team became like a family. I found my new family here. I think I did adapt pretty quickly, especially compared to maybe other Chinese athletes. … One thing that was interesting about the culture is that in China, parents don’t usually come to every meet. When I came here I found out that the parents [of other Gophers athletes] came to the meets to support their kids. And they cheered me really loudly, too. I was kind of shocked by that.
Q Outside of the pool, what has life been like for you here in Minnesota and at the university?
A It became very busy. Keeping up with school and competition, especially when we have a travel meet, keeps me busy.
Q You graduate pretty soon. What does life after college hold for you, both athletically and academically?
A I still have a big meet in China — an event that happens every four years. I started training for that meet, which is in August. And I have a job already. After the national games in China, I’m going to move to Hong Kong to start my new job with an airline company in their human resources department.