By Marice Richter
DALLAS (Reuters) - Faced with the disappointments and setbacks that have plagued Unites States platform diver Brittany Viola many athletes would have given up hope of becoming Olympians.
But not Viola who has overcome injuries and an eating disorder to earn the chance to compete at the London Games.
The obstacles in Viola's path only strengthened her resolve to earn a spot on the team. With that accomplished, she is banking on her tenacity to power through to the medal platform.
"This is my year, I know it," the 25-year-old said in an interview during a recent Olympic Media Summit in Dallas. "I'm going to continue to push my performance and reach the goals I've set for myself."
At last month's U.S. Olympics diving trials, Viola delivered the type of performance she expected of herself, clinching the championship and finishing 57 points ahead of nearest rival Katherine Bell, who will also compete at the London Games.
The victory was especially sweet after the disappointment of narrowly missing out on the Olympic team at the 2004 and 2008 trials. She might have made the team in 2004 but there was only one spot for a platform diver and that went to the top finisher, Laura Wilkinson, a gold medalist at the 2000 Sydney Games.
"Laura took women's diving to the whole next level," Viola said. "No one else had ever trained like that."
Viola raised her game but came fourth at the 2008 trials.
Looking back, Viola now realizes she was not ready in 2004 or 2008 but, along with her coach Randy Ableman, she believes this could be her year to shine.
"Her performance at the trials was outstanding," said Ableman, diving coach at the University of Miami, where she attended college.
"The Chinese continue to dominate in diving but if she does what she did at the trials and improves by about two percent, she could medal."
Viola has the drive as well as the genetic predisposition to be a standout athlete. Her father, Frank, was the Most Valuable Player in the 1987 World Series playing for the Minnesota Twins.
He was also the 1988 American League Cy Young Award winner and a three-time All-Star.
A native of St Paul, Minnesota, Viola grew up in Orlando, Florida, and set her sights on competing in the Olympics as a gymnast. She was an elite international competitor but gave up gymnastics aged 13 because she did not want to leave home to train.
Instead, she redirected her energy into diving.
Viola quickly showed potential but was worried that she had the wrong body type for the sport. In her attempt to lose weight, and change her body, she developed an eating disorder.
She battled bulimia from the age of 15 and was went into hospital for a while to help overcome the disorder.
"I was finally able to realise that I am beautiful just the way I am and that nothing needs to change," said Viola, who strives to be a role model for other young women and athletes who struggle with body image problems.
After overcoming that setback, Viola struggled with a foot injury that threatened to derail her Olympic dreams again. Surgery in 2009 and 2010 kept her out of competition during the 2010 season.
A year later, she came back stronger and more determined than ever. She won gold medals at the USA Diving Winter Championships and National Diving Championships in 2011.
After finishing third in the USA Diving Winter National Championship this year, Viola was not a shoo-in for one of the two spots in individual platform diving on the Olympic team. But she was determined to make it happen.
"I'm going after my dream," she said. "The world will see a different side of me in 2012. I'm fulfilling that dream."
(Editing by Frank Pingue)
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