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Deerfield diver Christina Loukas disappointed by eighth-place finish, but she shouldn’t be

ChristinLoukas Deerfield came up short her dream an Olympic medal finishing eighth women’s 3-meter springboard. | Michael Sohn~AP

Christina Loukas of Deerfield came up short of her dream of an Olympic medal, finishing eighth in the women’s 3-meter springboard. | Michael Sohn~AP

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Updated: September 7, 2012 6:14AM

LONDON — We watch the winners. We identify with them.

The losers, in our minds, kind of . . . disappear. In real life, though, they don’t.

Diver Christina Loukas of Deerfield finished eighth in the women’s 3-meter springboard, and she stands here now, only minutes later, trying to keep it together.

Eighth-best in the world? Lord, that’s good. But Loukas wanted so much more.

Father George played football at Southern Illinois. Uncle Angelo played football at Northwestern, then with the Buffalo Bills. Cousin Alexander was an all-state quarterback at Deerfield, went to Stanford on a scholarship and now plays pro ball in Europe.

They’re all big guys of Greek descent, and they’re ferocious competitors. But little Christina could have been the most decorated of all. An Olympic medal? Please.

‘‘I don’t know,’’ she said of what happened. ‘‘I just couldn’t find the water and get vertical. I set my dives up very . . . yeh.’’

The ‘‘yeh’’ was a pause for the tears that welled up in her already-bloodshot eyes. She was smiling, but it was only out of courtesy, out of deep effort.

Though her scores were consistent from the preliminaries to the finals — 330.45, 339.75, 332.10 — Loukas had hoped to turn on the magic in what likely were the last five dives of her career.

She had qualified sixth, just behind U.S. teammate Cassidy Krug, and sixth is close enough to get lucky and make a charge.

Loukas’ first dive was a back 2½-somersault in pike position, and it was a beautiful thing to watch. But there might have been the slightest bit of overturn, her pointed toes whipping back ever so slightly.

The judges saw the flaw and awarded her a 69. That’s not a bad score, but if you multiply it by five, you get 345. Third place in the finals went to Laura Sanchez-Soto of Mexico with 362.40.

A score of 345 would have placed sixth. But Loukas wanted way more than that.

‘‘I just was off; I couldn’t get in my rhythm,’’ she said, her hair wet, her ears decorated with a pair of tiny diamond studs. ‘‘And I don’t know why that is. I was feeling really confident.’’

She had, by her estimate, 27 family members and friends in the stands, including Uncle Tony, maybe the biggest of them all, who played football at Wisconsin. That’s a heavy burden for a 5-foot, 4-inch 26-year-old who lists cooking and the Cubs as two of her favorite pastimes.

Her second, third, and fourth dives — a 2½ reverse, an inward 2½ and a front 3½, all in pike position — didn’t garner her one of those knockout 80-point scores. All were in the high 60s.

Meanwhile, Chinese teammates He Zi and Wu Minxia were putting on a show. They were acrobats from a circus, leaving no trace as they slipped into the blue water like dropped darts.

I asked U.S. diving coach Kenny Anderson where these crazy athletes were from.

‘‘From Pluto,’’ he replied. ‘‘China is a factory. Unless we change our system, I don’t know how we keep up.’’

But Loukas had a chance, Anderson said.

‘‘She rips her dives, she’s in the top three,’’ he said.

On her last dive, Loukas needed something spectacular just to move up to fifth. Her front 2½ didn’t do it. The judges gave her a 67.5.

And it was all over.

But she stands here still, patiently answering silly questions about her dad, who owns the Cubby Bear across from Wrigley Field, as well as some rooftops along Waveland. Sister Stacy is a manager at the Cubby Bear, and other relatives work there. Did she?

‘‘I’d fill in at times,’’ she said, not really thinking about such a trifle. ‘‘Nothing serious.’’

I wasn’t bringing up the Cubs or their 104-year drought or anything like that. Losing isn’t funny now. And why is eighth place in the world losing? It’s all perspective, how you see it.

It’s hard watching a person who has put in so much effort be in that moment of reflection and regret. The joy will come later — bittersweet, yes, but it will come — as what might have been turns to what is.

So there probably will be a party for you at the pub, you say in an effort to lighten things.

‘‘Yeh,’’ Loukas said, tears welling again, trying so hard to smile. ‘‘Probably.’’

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