Before Jeff Cragg begins his approach to the diving board, he faces the expansive pool beneath him. With his back toward the Sheerr record board, he takes a deep breath and begins with a short step, arms down by his side.
He bounces slowly before all of a sudden, his arms pull down and with a powerful step he launches himself into the air.
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Diving has always come naturally for senior Jeff Cragg. In fact, back when he first started, it could hardly be called diving.
“I’ve been diving longer than I can remember, actually just falling off diving boards in diapers before anyone would allow us in a pool,” he said. “[I had] memories of, as a child, going off a diving board until you couldn’t see anymore because the sun went down. It was just happiness.”
The Lafayette Hill, Pa., native would spend his summers at the Ply Mar Swim & Tennis Club where he first learned how to dive from his father, who has since served as his coach and mentor.
“I think we’ve done a very good job at it,” Jeff said. “I consider him one of my best friends. We both do a good job of keeping the coach relationship on the pool deck separate from the father-son relationship in the car ride home.”
His father, Rob Cragg Jr., first started diving at Penn as an undergraduate in 1971 under then-Penn coach Paul Flack, a fundamentalist, according to the elder Cragg. Flack drilled into him the importance of mechanics. At 6-foot-1, Rob was forced to perfect his technique, but the hard work paid off as he was named a two-time All-American.
A year after graduating, he had one his best performances at the U.S. Diving National Championships, finishing third and securing a spot at the 1976 Olympics in Montreal. In the Games, he would go on to finish fifth.
“Diving in the games was like Christmas every day,” Rob said. “I didn’t expect to go … but I happened to have a really great Olympic Trials.”
After competing in Europe on the international diving circuit, the elder Cragg returned to coach at Penn. From 1987 to 1991 he attended Penn practices with baby Jeff in tow. However after four years, he decided to take time off to concentrate on his full-time job and raising his son.
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Once Jeff enrolled at Penn, his father returned too.
“When we recruited Jeff, [Rob and I] sort of conspired against Jeff,” joked Penn head swimming coach Mike Schnur, who swam for Penn during Rob’s first coaching stint. “When other schools sent any recruiting stuff, I don’t think Jeff would see any of them. I think Rob would throw them out.”
Since his freshman year, Jeff — with the coaching of his father — has proved to be one of the best divers ever to walk through Penn, perhaps only challenged by his dad.
“The big advantage of having Jeff is that we know we’re going to win,” Schnur said. “For the last four years, we know, going into meets, we’re going to win diving.”
As a freshman, Jeff finished third in the one-meter dive and second in the three-meter event in the Ivy League Championships. Last year, he finished third in the one-meter at the postseason competition.
Jeff even topped his father’s two school records. As a sophomore, he scored 349.13 on a nearly flawless one-meter routine.
For two years now, Jeff’s and Rob’s names have stood side-by-side on the Sheerr Pool record board, but that will change this offseason. On Feb. 4, Jeff broke Rob’s 1974 three-meter diving record on Senior Day, with his coach and father looking on.
“Sure we’ve had some frustrations … but every year has been a little bit better,” Rob said of his son. “This has been a breakthrough season with everything starting to click … it’s just gotten better and better every year.”
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High above the water he sails. He flips once. Twice. Arching his back, he tears open the pool, and a ripping noise echoes through the room. He slowly swims out of the water, his coach letting him know that he didn’t finish his last revolution.
Father and son, the two discuss it for a brief moment before Jeff heads back up the ladder to the top of the diving board.
Ready to go, ready to jump.