Nevada diving coach Jian Li You has been robbed of the Olympic experience a few times before.
In 1980, then a star in China, she was as one of the world's top divers but was forced to sit out due to a 66-country boycotted because of the Soviet-Afghan War. In 1992, she was supposed to train a Chinese diver who had qualified for the Olympics but that diver was bribed to switch coaches, You said.
This year, there is nothing keeping her from the Tokyo Games as her star pupil, ex-Nevada star Krysta Palmer, qualified for two events in the Summer Olympics. You is one of nine diving coaches on Team USA's roster and the first female coach to be part of the American diving contingency.
“I love China, but I don't like the system,” You said. “It's not fair. So, here is very fair. That's why I tell Krysta, ‘You're so lucky. You know, when I was your age, we're so unlucky. You know, there's no fairness.’”
At 8 years old, You was selected to train as a diver where she saw her family only one week out of the year.
“Culture is so different," You said. "We're so disciplined in China, time-wise. Also, we never can say, 'No.' It's like an army, and China's sports is just like a boot camp. What I love here is more freedom. Big difference.”
In 1978, You had the opportunity to visit the United States. Once going back to her home country of China, she learned how different life could be.
“In 1980, around that time we started growing and gaining a little bit of weight," You said. "So our culture is very strict. You are not allowed to eat dinner. Just a cup of chocolate and one apple.”
And taking away food wasn't the only possible punishment.
“I never got beat, but I was scared," she said. "You know, if you don't listen, then they will.”
In 1995, You immigrated to Florida to train American diver Becky Ruehl. She's entering her 26th season with the Wolf Pack and is six-time Mountain West Coach of the Year. Her résumé doesn't stop there. In 2016, she was named the NCAA Diving Coach of the Year and has worked with several Olympians, including Olympic gold medalist Fu Mingxia, Tan Luengdai, Su Suwi and Lon Wei as well as Americans Becky Ruehl, Mary Ellen Clark, Scott Donie and Dave Pichler.
“I just love this,” You said. “That's why I'm here. Twenty-five years. I love Reno. I love here. I love my department, and I love my coaches. And they're all very supportive. And we're so lucky."
Palmer realizes how fortunate she's been to work with You as her coach.
“I’m truly blessed that she is my coach throughout all of this because she's got a tremendous amount of knowledge that she's been able to take my talent and transform it into something great in diving,” Palmer said. "And it's hard to do. I had a lot of habits that came from trampoline that were bad habits for diving that she really spent a lot of time changing. And so to have such a knowledgeable coach and and just amazing human being overall, I'm very blessed for a Jian Li."
You said she's been fortunate to work with an athlete as talented and hard-working as Palmer. She's also learned a lot of American culture from the partnership. Nevada swimming coach Brendon Bray raves about the impact You has had on Palmer.
“It's just in my opinion, she's the best in the country," Bray said. "So to have her here in Reno is a really special thing."
While headed to Tokyo for the Olympics. You is keeping the expectations for the next couple of weeks simple.
“Have fun, no pressure, nothing to lose," You said. "Life is a gamble. Sports competition is a gamble, too. Let's have fun to gamble.”