Olympic trials are known to be draining on the athletes involved -- physically from the feats they must perform and emotionally from the highs and lows that come with the Games.
For 22-year-old diver Thomas Finchum, who represented the U.S. in two events in Beijing, last weekend's trials in Federal Way, Wash., took a considerable emotional toll. He finished third in his signature event, the individual platform, and fourth in the individual springboard, with only the top two divers in each event making the Olympic team.
After Finchum's final dive from the platform, he approached John Wingfield, his longtime coach, and broke down in tears. Wingfield spoke softly: "You'll always be a 2008 Olympian."
So later that evening, Finchum announced his retirement from the sport via Twitter. "When I was done with that event, I knew it was time," he said Tuesday in a phone interview. "I dedicated all my time to this; I was home-schooled through high school, training from 7:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. ... But I don't have any bad feelings about the sport, and that's what I'm happy about. I feel like if I tried to go another four years [to prepare for the 2016 Games], I might lose the love that I've had since I was 9."
With one chapter of his life now closed, hope springs eternal for the next: Finchum is excited about a move to Nashville, where he'll turn his attention to a new dream: hitting it big with his country band, Northern Nights.
Formed just last year with a trio of family friends, the group has been receiving a steady flow of attention from both the media and newfound fans, many of whom happened upon it during the Olympic trials, despite NBC's repeated references to "Northern Lights."
The band released its first single, "Baby I'm Gone," on iTunes late last year, and Finchum has been thrilled with the response. Despite its modest roots, the track's polished sound shines, and it has the crossover potential that up-and-coming country acts crave. It took the diver-turned-songwriter only 15 minutes to pen. ("It's crazy; sometimes they take weeks.")
Citing influences from Keith Urban to Hunter Hayes, and harboring a penchant for singers who are also their own songwriters, Finchum's focus now is on recording new songs for an upcoming extended play (EP), and then playing for live audiences in the music city. It's become a creative outlet for an athlete who's now forced to find a new one.
"We're recording a lot of songs that are really personal to me," he said. "I'm so excited for people to hear them."
Finchum's songwriting really took off in 2010 when the guitar became an outlet after shoulder surgery sidelined him from the pool for six months. He had sung in some fashion his whole life -- in church choirs, with family, at karaoke outings -- but had to be nudged (and overcome stage fright) to take his talents public.
"I had this realization that I really want to do this, as crazy as it might be," he said. "And you know, I had a crazy dream when I was little, I worked hard, and made that come true. Now, I'm just driven by new big dreams. So, why not try again?"