Once upon a time, Zora Opalka etched her name into the Bainbridge High School history books when she became the first female diver from the school to win a state championship.
A few years later, she’s hoping to make a little more history.
Opalka is looking to qualify for the Olympics in Tokyo this summer, but under the flag of Slovakia; she would be the first person ever to represent that nation in diving. Opalka holds dual citizenship through her father.
Slovakia doesn’t have a diving program, and there’s no governing body for the sport. Opalka has been working with its water sports federation to start a program from scratch as the country’s first registered diver.
“It’s been a project myself and my family have been working on for awhile,” Opalka said. “We’ve been in contact for the past two years, in constant communication trying to figure it out.”
It’s been a long journey for the self-described diehard Bluefin. She was a swimmer at the Bainbridge Island Swim Club and admittedly hated it. But the idea of “performing” appealed to her, and she gave diving a try.
“The divers always looked like they were having more fun,” she said.
Under the tutelage of coach Chris Miller, Opalka captured a 3A state championship for BHS in 2016 and then went off to dive at the University of Denver. She won several dual meets her second year there, and finishing 42nd on the 3-meter board and 50th on the 1-meter board in the NCAA Zone Diving championships.
Opalka missed the next year due to a knee injury and was just getting back into the swing of things when COVID-19 shut down college athletics.
“It made me worried that my career had been cut short,” Opalka said. “Thankfully I had an opportunity in Indiana.”
Opalka was able to take a gap year from school and take a job doing administrative work at the Indiana Diving Academy in Arcadia, where she had the opportunity to train for free. Indiana Diving Academy is run by John Wingfield, a former U.S. Olympic diving coach and former director of USA Diving’s Training Center.
“I’m really lucky and honestly honored to get that opportunity,” Opalka said. “It’s honestly surreal, really cool, this experience this year.”
She still has two years of college eligibility left at Denver, and plans to return next year, but first Opalka will try to qualify for the Olympics.
She recently returned from a competition in Florida, placing fourth against a former Olympian and a competitive pool of junior divers, and will soon head to Budapest to compete on platform and springboard against divers from the Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland.
She has more than one path to Tokyo — a top 20 finish at the World Championships in April would get her a spot, but she’s also registered for one of the few diplomatic spots, which is extended to nations establishing a program, giving them a chance to compete at a highest level.
While diving may favor the younger athletes, 2021 isn’t Opalka’s last shot at making her dream come true. She’ll return to Denver, finish her master’s degree — she’s a marketing major with a dual minor in art and data analytics — and then set her sights on the 2024 Olympics.
Opalka said she is thankful to Miller, her parents and the BISC coaching staff for helping shape her into the athlete she is today.