NMU diving coach returns to native Brazil for Olympic duty

[Information Courtesy of Kristi Evans Northern Michigan University]

NMU diving coach Milton Braga will provide color commentary on the Olympic diving competition for a television sports network in his native Brazil. He is well-qualified for the role, not only because of his coaching experience, but because of the perspective he brings as a former athlete who achieved the Olympic dream. Braga was the first Brazilian diver to compete in two Summer Games: 1976 in Montreal and 1980 in Moscow.

“It will be exciting to have a front-row seat to the competition and be able to share insights on divers and coaches with the television audience,” he said. “One of the reasons I accepted this opportunity was to be able to watch the dives while sitting behind the coaches and listening to the corrections they make to see if I’m on the same page. I may learn terminology or other things from the best of the best that I can apply at Northern. I plan to wear NMU gear as much as possible when I’m there. All the green and gold will fit right in because those are Brazil’s prominent colors.”

When Braga was a competitive diver, he was the only Brazilian to qualify for many World Championships. No coach traveled with him, so Braga asked other countries’ coaches for pointers and videotaping other athletes’ dives to analyze them for nuances that might improve his own performance. He said eventually U.S. and Canadian coaches were recruited to tutor a Brazilian coach, so he didn’t feel as isolated at major competitions.

“It wasn’t popular back then like it is now for international athletes to go to the United States to train and compete at the college level,” he added. “Sometimes I imagine how much better I might have been if I was diving against a Greg Louganis every day. I could have asked him for some tips and gone through the same workouts and training regimen he did.”

Braga said another difference from then to now is that the level of difficulty has increased noticeably and is close to reaching its limit—similar to gymnastics, where he and many divers got their start. He attributes much of the progression to the sophisticated machinery available to spot divers and aid training.

One aspect of the sport that has remained constant is the thrill of athletes who qualify to represent their countries at the pinnacle of global competition. Braga gets visibly emotional when he recalls getting the first phone call from a Brazilian Olympic Committee representative informing him he would compete in Montreal.

“I cried, my parents cried and people on our street were crying. It’s the best feeling of all. And when you walk through the gate at the opening ceremony, you feel like a gladiator with tens of thousands of people cheering and athletes you’ve only read about or seen on TV surrounding you. It’s something to savor for the rest of your life.

“I tell my divers that I sacrificed so much to achieve the dream, but I was able to travel the world, compete in fantastic venues and meet some great friends. Now I coach to pay back what was given to me. The goals may be different for Northern divers—becoming a GLIAC leader, All-American and getting a good education—but that’s like their Olympics. My job is doing everything available to help them accomplish their goals.”

Braga left Marquette July 27 to visit family and friends ahead of the Olympics and to see some of the venues before they fill up. He said he would love to sneak in a courtesy 10-meter platform dive when the pool is not in use. He may also volunteer for other duty in addition to his broadcasting assignment to make the most of this rare opportunity to attend the Olympics in his home country.

The diving competition begins Aug. 7. While the United States historically has garnered the most Olympic gold medals in the sport of any country, China has been the dominating force in recent memory. Braga predicts the Chinese will continue their run in Rio, but said they could face a strong challenge from Russia in the men’s events. On the women’s side, he said Italy and Great Britain have the best chance of medaling outside of China. But as previous Olympics have shown, he does not rule out a few surprises.