COLUMBIA — Elle Christie looks as confident as an Olympic diver when she steps onto the 3-meter springboard. She doesn't look at her parents or her coaches. She looks straight ahead, concentrating on what she is about to do.
Between dives, Elle looks like an 11-year-old who is just having fun. She smiles as she gets out of the water and looks relaxed as she walks quickly back to the platform for her next dive.
But Elle isn't just any fifth-grader jumping off a diving board. She is a National Junior Olympic medalist.
She placed ninth in the 1-meter dive at the USA Diving Spring Junior West National Championships, held April 8 to 10 in Lubbock, Texas. She also placed 15th in the 3-meter dive.
Elle is a fifth-grade student at Ridgeway Elementary School who started diving when she was 8 years old. She said she began diving because her mother, Lara, was a diver and she wanted to try it.
Now, Elle has been a member of the Missouri Diving Club for three years. The club is led by Amy Gosney and Jamie Sweeney, who is also the coach of the MU diving team.
But Gosney and Sweeney are not Elle Christie's only coaches. Lara Christie, a former MU diver, and Elle's father, Scott Christie, a former MU swimmer, are a part of her success as well.
"I think her parents are very supportive parents, and I think that they understand the value of what hard work looks like for an athlete, creating a good balance between athletics and school, and family life and things like that," Gosney said. "They support the discipline that you need to be a good athlete. Certainly having parents that were athletes is helpful in creating that supportive environment."
Elle practices three times a week, for about two hours each practice. Gosney said: "She is almost always the first one on the board during practice."
Elle also was a gymnast , but recently has focused on diving. Her experience with gymnastics has helped improve her diving skills.
"Gymnasts make great divers," Gosney said. "This year she's really come along. She can jump unbelievably for a kid of her age. She's strong and she spins fast which makes for a good diver, and she works hard."
In March, Elle qualified for the West Junior Nationals at a regional meet in Evanston, Ill. She won the 1-meter event at that meet and placed third in the 3-meter.
She qualified for the West Junior Nationals last year, but this year she was a top-10 finisher in an event for the first time.
"It kind of makes you a little nervous, but it's really fun," she said about competing at national meets.
Her mother feels the same way.
"I get really nervous," Lara Christie said. "But we try to make it as fun as we can, and we try to do something other than just dive, like see the sights of wherever we are."
While they were in Evanston, the Christies visited the American Girl doll store in Chicago. In Lubbock, they went shopping at the local mall.
The Christies did not have to travel far to Elle's latest diving meet. She won the girls 11-and-under 1-meter and 3-meter events at the sixth annual Tigertown Challenge on Saturday and Sunday at Mizzou Student Recreation Complex.
While her success is extraordinary, it is not unprecedented for the Missouri Diving Club. The Missouri Diving Club has sent plenty of divers to the West Junior Nationals, and Gosney remembers one who also had a lot of success there.
David Bonuchi, who graduated from Hickman High School and is now a freshman diver at MU, earned top 10 recognition at the West Junior Nationals at about the same age, Gosney said.
In March, Bonuchi placed fourth in the platform event and eighth in the 3-meter at the 2011 NCAA Men's Diving Championships.
Gosney expects Elle to find similar success.
"I expect her to dive at the national level in the years to come as well," Gosney said. "I think that she's really starting to put a lot of things together."
"When she learns something, sometimes it takes a little while for her to work up the courage to do a new dive. But when she does it, it's pretty darn good."