April 4, 2013
"When he's up there practicing dives, I'll walk around the corner and make a face at him and he'll just start laughing and then do a dive that will get him 10 points from five judges," Nolan said this week. "It's just incredible the kind of talent he has."
The same can be said of Nolan. While Ipsen recently won the 1- and 3-meter events and finished second in platform at the NCAA Championships and was named NCAA Diver of the Year, Nolan also captured two events, the 100-yard backstroke and 200 individual medley. The talented sophomores are the cornerstone of the young Stanford swimming and diving team, and have mutual respect for each other.
"Before this meet, he was super-dedicated," Ipsen said of Nolan. "He put everything into it and it really showed. I really admire him for that."
Nolan grew up in Hershey, Pa., the chocolate capital of the U.S. Ipsen was raised in Clayton, Calif., where his father Kent owns six pizza restaurants called "Skipolini's."
"It was my grandpa's nickname and they added `olini's' on the end to make it sound Italian," said Ipsen, whose family roots are Italian.
Kent even named a pizza after his son called "The Bettega," the family name on his father's side. That's Kristian's middle name too. It includes a white sauce, garlic, tomatoes and bacon. Last year before a home football game, Kent surprised Kristian and his dorm with pizzas.
Ipsen and Nolan helped lead the Cardinal to a seventh-place finish at the NCAA's, although it could have been much higher had two relay teams not been disqualified. "We had a couple mishaps," said Nolan. "But, overall, a lot of people improved greatly. We were pretty satisfied with the meet."
Nolan said a big reason for that feeling was the uplifting way the team finished the meet.
"Last year, we got third place and felt like failures," he said.
"All year, they have been enforcing this mindset of greatness and positivity," Nolan said. "We kind of attacked every meet with the idea of having fun and it worked out for us."
"I think the team dynamic was really good," he said. "Morale was never down. Everyone fought the whole time. It was a really good atmosphere and team to be a part of."
Ipsen said the excitement of participating in the NCAA Championships was comparable to diving for Team USA last summer during the Olympic Games in London, where he finished third in the synchronized 3-meter competition.
"It is smaller, but I think they're very similar because of the team aspect," said Ipsen. "At the Olympics, it's like one big Team USA fighting for something against all the other countries. Our Stanford team felt the exact same way. When I was competing, it was so cool to have the whole swimming team there and all the parents watching and screaming. It really did feel like the same thing on a smaller scale."
Ipsen said he felt just as nervous diving for his school as he did for his country. "This is what Rick (head diving coach Dr. Rick Schavone) and everyone on our team had been focusing on all year," he said. "It all just clicked for me."
Ipsen was so focused, he accidentally left one of his trophies in his hotel room. "Only you," cracked Schavone.
As for his Olympic experience, Ipsen said it exceeded his expectations.
"It was absolutely incredible," Ipsen said. "The whole thing was kind of like this surreal two weeks that went by so fast. It's something that I had been training for since I was 12 or 13. Ever since then, it's been like a whirlwind experience. There is so much preparation and so many hours go into it. I only competed for 45 minutes - six dives. So it was really strange. Thankfully, I had such a good outcome."
The opening ceremonies were unforgettable.
"The craziest part is when I was young, I always imagined, `What if it could be me?' '' he said. "It was such an amazing feeling being on the other side of that, waiting in the tunnel, all that anticipation of walking out in front of the crowd. I've never felt so patriotic."
Both Ipsen and Nolan hope to qualify for the 2016 Olympics in Brazil. Of more immediate interest is reaching the World Championships this summer in Spain.
"That's going to be cool," Nolan said. "It's all about the process and having fun."
Ipsen is majoring in science, technology and society, and still deciding what to do after college. Nolan, a three-time Pennsylvania swimmer of the year, is pursuing a degree in biomechanical engineering and would like to attend medical school.
"With regards to academics, if you ever need help on anything, it's not one of those super-competitive places where someone won't help you out," he said of Stanford. "Most of the people in your classes are like, `Yeah, I'll show you how to do this.' And vice-versa. Everyone is willing to help each other."
Ipsen, who now sports a tattoo of the Olympic rings on the inside of his left arm, said students and faculty haven't treated him any differently since London.
"Because of all the talented people who are here at Stanford, it wasn't that big of a deal," he said. "It will be brought up sometimes, but there are a ton of Olympians here right now and there are so many other talented people around campus. Diving is just a small aspect of my life and a small part of Stanford's amazing community."
-- By Mark Soltau, Stanford Athletics
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Palo Alto native Mark Soltau has spent his whole life and much of his career around Stanford sports. A sportswriter for 35 years, Soltau spent 16 (1981-97) at the San Francisco Examiner, where he covered not only the Cardinal, but all five 49ers Super Bowl-championship teams. Golf always has been his passion and Soltau served as the sport's beat writer for the Examiner, national golf writer for CBS Sportsline, contributing editor to Golf Digest, and since 1997 has been the editor of tigerwoods.com.