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Acevedo spent his time on the beach as a Coney Island lifeguard. The last time he did anything close to resembling a dive was three months before the Games began. It didn't matter. When the lights went on and the curtain came up, Acevedo performed like an old pro, scoring 564.60 in the 1-meter and 485.35 in the 3-meter at Binghamton University Saturday. "The Empire Games are always good to me," he said. "I came here to have fun."Acevedo, who has the untroubled appearance of a kid at recess and is so non-threatening during competitions that he always appears to be warming up, performed brilliantly even though expectations were higher for him this year. In 2002, when he was an unknown diver who had recently moved here from Colombia, Acevedo took the competition by storm, setting a scholastic record in the 1- and 3-meter dives, and last year, proving it wasn't a fluke, he did it again, winning a pair of gold medals in his signature events." I just relax when I dive," said Acevedo, who also won a gold medal with Hugo Salazar in the Synchronized final. "I do what I was taught. The first time I competed (here), everyone was like, "Who is this guy?" but if you really want to do something, like diving well, you have to put in lots of effort."Easy for him to say.Acevedo has been a diving marvel since he was a little kid competing for Colombia's national team. From the age of 6 until he was 14, he was the top-rated diver in the country for his age group, winning three events in both the South American Games and Central American Games. Because diving wasn't a high priority for the government, and often, according to Acevedo, kept subsidies meant to pay for his food and travel, Acevedo jumped ship and brought his talents to Sunnyside, where his family settled when he was 14."It was tough to leave and my coach there wanted me to stay," Acevedo said. "It was tough to leave my friends, but I did it because I want to get a diving scholarship in the United States. I still talk to my old coach, but I have a new coach here."His new coach is Elizabeth Schuellein, a phys ed teacher at Newcomers High School who stumbled on Acevedo almost by accident when a school administrator, during his screening process to enroll at the school, found out that he had a passing interest in diving."She said that there was someone that he should meet, and the two of us were introduced," said Schuellein, who competed in the Empires for the 11th year. "When we met, he spoke almost no English, but I could tell he was serious (about diving) when he told me what types of dives he could do. Then when I saw him dive, it was awesome. His dives are so clean and precise. He doesn't let anything distract him." Thanks to some heavy phone work by Schuellein, Newcomers will field a swim and diving team this year for the first time in school history, and Acevedo will have a chance to compete in the New York State Public Swim and Diving Championships, which he was barred from last year because Newcomers did not have a team. The PSAL Championships, a qualifier for the states, does not allow athletes to compete independently, according to Bob Kolonkowski, the PSAL's swimming commissioner. Acevedo's absence last year was felt throughout the diving community."He was not allowed to compete even though he was one of the top divers in the state," said Bob Kersch, the diving chairperson of the Empire State Games and a committee member on the High School All-American Diving selection team. "How can you deny a kid an opportunity to be in the high school championships? The kid was one of the top one or two divers in New York state. It's ridiculous. He does dives that people don't do. He's advanced for his years."Added Schuellein: "I fought to get the swim team this year because here's a kid with so much talent who needs to get out and be seen. Now that we have the team, it will give him some exposure."And Acevedo will finally have a place to practice.Reach reporter Mitch Abramson by e-mail at email@example.com or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 130.
©2004 Community Newspaper Group
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