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High schooler shines in Chengdu

Summer Games 5 August 2023
Luke Forester

Some athletes are taking part in their first FISU World University Games, while others are participating for the second or even third time.

What makes the Chengdu Games particularly interesting is the age difference between the youngest and the oldest student athlete.

This year the number is 3651, representing the days separating the two extremes. One eye-catching name was repeated several times on the starting lists for the diving events: American Luke Forester, age 17, almost ten years younger than the two oldest competitors in Chengdu.

Luke Forester (USA) during men’s 1m springboard final

Geronay Whitebooi, a judoka from South Africa, and India’s Vikran Malik in athletics, were both born in January of 1996.

“Yes, I am still in high school,” said the native of Wooburn, Texas after Saturday’s men’s 1m springboard event.

How is a high school student participating at the FISU Games, you might ask?

“I’m committed to the University of Texas at Austin. The head coach there [Eddie Reese] wrote a letter to present my athletic progress. I’m taking dual courses, so I’m getting college credits,” he said, explaining his path to Chengdu.

“I’m very excited and can’t wait to go to college,” he added.

The university level in the USA is quite high, but competing in diving in high school can be enough to gain access to the FISU Games.

“It is amazing. Just the whole experience with the cameras and the interviews has been so much fun. It’s unlike anything I’ve experienced in America, so I’ve had a blast.”

Tai Xiaohu (left) and Shi Zhenyu (right) both from China celebrate after the final of the men’s 1m springboard

His best result was fourth place in the mixed synchronised 3m springboard with Sophia Grace Verzyl, just 4.2 points off the podium.

“I had a great time on the US team,” he said, praising the atmosphere. “I didn’t get any tips from the other divers or athletes, but everyone is so supportive.”

Forester finished seventh in the 1m springboard on Saturday with 323.5 points.

China’s Tai Xiaohu won gold thanks to a whopping 432.45 tally.

“The most important thing was to keep my consistency no matter how others performed during the competition,” said Tai, the Shandong Sport University student, after winning his first medal of the Games.

“I kept in mind that no matter how I finished, the most important thing was to perform well.”

Korea’s Kim Yeongnam (422.50) and China’s Shi Zhenyu (408.70) took silver and bronze.

All of the finalists were more experienced than Forester. Germany’s Alexander Lube is even nine years older than the American.

“Honestly, it’s great that I can compete with older and more experienced athletes,” Forester admitted. “I am learning a lot from them while having a lot of fun at the same time. I hope to see them again at other big events.”

Speaking of the future, his plans are clear.

“I’d like to go as far as I can,” said the American. “I’m looking forward to training and going to classes in Texas. Hopefully, I will be competing in an international event again soon.”

As the Chengdu FISU Games draw to a close, five more diving gold medals will be awarded at the Jianyang Cultural and Sports Centre Natatorium, including one on Sunday and four on Monday.

Written by Miha Trošt, FISU Young Reporter