Rodger Sherman

Daily Northwestern
Jan 9 2009

Not much is clear about what head diving coach Alik Sarkisian is
saying. He's standing poolside, eyes widened, arms excitedly gesturing
at various pieces of gymnastics equipment, trying to find the English
to describe how he wants Northwestern to have the best dry-land diving
facilities in the country.

What comes through, past the Armenian accent and sentences sprinkled
with diving jargon, is Sarkisian's passion for improving NU's already
strong diving program.

Sarkisian's diving journey has taken him over 6,000 miles from his
birthplace in Armenia. He's lived diving nearly 40 years, since he
first entered into the Soviet Union's Olympic training program. He's
been a coach for 27 of those years. And after 13 Armenian diving
championships and stints as the head coach of both the American
and Armenian diving teams, he's in his third year at the head of
NU's program.

"He has that really impressive resume," said Kalister Harmon, a junior
diver who still has three years of eligibility left after transferring
from LSU. "But what's really important is that he knows his stuff."

Diving at NU technically isn't its own sport - the two men's divers
and three women's divers are part of their respective swim teams,
and compete during a break from the swimming portions of the team's
meets - the divers on both squads fall under Sarkisian's jurisdiction.

Both teams compete Saturday: the men at Carthage College, the women
hosting Notre Dame and Toledo.

As Sarkisian spoke, occasionally interrupting himself to advise his
divers, he seemed to be thinking faster than he could speak. He's
full of talking points: A plan to have NU use the diving facilities
from the Chicago 2016 Olympics, should the city get the bid; a plan
to build a new 10-meter diving platform; his reasoning for all the
gym equipment at diving practice.

"If you do not practice first on the land," Sarkisian philosophized,
"you will go into the water with a smack."

Harmon said Sarkisian is a great coach outside of the pool, calling
him a "diving psychologist."

"A lot of times you spend too much time thinking about how the
competition is going to do better than you, and then they will,"
Harmon said. "So he tells us that if we have fun, we'll succeed."

The most interesting workout Sarkisian puts the team through is a
fast-paced morning soccer game held on the SPAC racquetball courts
to kick off the day. The stated purpose is to improve the team's
foot-eye coordination, but it could just as easily be to take the
monotony out of days of drilling, weight-lifting and trampolines.

All this despite Sarkisian's occasional issues with the language

"He uses a lot of hand gestures," Harmon said.