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U.S. Olympic diver saw his college teammate blossom after coming out as gay

Sam Dorman saw a big change in Tanner Wilfong at the University of Miami. "He was like a whole new man to me."

Sam Dorman, right, and Michael Hixon will dive in the Olympics in the men’s synchronized 3-meter springboard
Sam Dorman, right, and Michael Hixon will dive in the Olympics in the men’s synchronized 3-meter springboard
Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

Sam Dorman qualified to compete in the Rio Olympics in the men's 3-meter synchronized diving. Dorman, who identifies as straight, competed at the University of Miami from 2010-15. Starting in 2012, he was teammates at Miami with Tanner Wilfong, who publicly announced he's gay in 2015. Wilfong qualified for the 2016 U.S. Olympic Trials but did not compete there because of a back injury.

I profiled Wilfong last year and interviewed Dorman for the story. I took the story in another direction and never used any of his quotes but now that Dorman has made the Olympic team, I thought they would be good to share for his perspective on having a gay teammate.

Q: What was your first impression of Tanner [Wilfong]?

Sam Dorman: A very genuine person. He was always fun and outgoing, very fun and outgoing. He's the type of kid that doesn't care what anyone thinks of him. I would say that after he came out. Before, he was a little bit timid and shy a bit. But after he came out, he was like a whole new man to me.

Q: How did you see that change?

SD: It seemed like he finally let loose and was himself. He wasn't hidden behind a glass wall that he had to stay behind. He could finally be himself. It was nice seeing that. His diving improved significantly, which was really cool to see. ... Life in general, diving, everything for him seemed like it was a lot better. It was awesome to see that transformation.

Q: Why was it awesome for you to see that?

SD: It just gives you another perspective on life and how people view life. Everything isn't just black and white. People do their own thing, and that's how they live. You learn to accept that being in this sport.

Q: You said he was shy before?

SD: I wouldn't say shy. He was a lot more timid, and he didn't let loose as much. He never put his guard down. His guard was always up. That's how you could explain it.

Q: Did you see Tanner acting different than other freshmen in the way that he was reserved?

SD: I would say at the moment, I didn't think he acted any different. But then once he came out, you knew the difference, because you hadn't seen the other side. So to me at that time, it was normal. But looking back at it now, that was not Tanner. That was definitely not Tanner. If someone would have described him then and now, it would have been two different sides.

Q: How did you find out Tanner's gay?

SD: Just through the team. It slowly seeped out through the team, and he eventually told me.

Q: What do you remember about the conversation you had with Tanner [in the fall of 2013] when he took the step to talk to you about his sexuality?

SD: We were at a football game coming home. He was a little shy and timid about it. I think he thought I was going to judge him, but I could care less. You're still Tanner. You haven't changed one bit to me. Your sexual preference does not matter to me as a person. It matters to me as a person who you are and your personality, not what you prefer. I couldn't give a shit.

Q: Why do you remember that it was after a football game?

SD: We were walking back to the buses, and he just said, "Hey, I'm gay, man."

I could totally see that coming. It's totally cool with me. You're still Tanner. Nothing's changed. I told him, "You're still goofy as hell and a funny guy, so my views on you have not changed."

Q: What difference did you see in the way Tanner dove, especially leading up to [the 2013] winter nationals that year?

SD: Oh, he tore it up. He killed it at nationals. He was on the national team with us and went to Malaysia. He killed it. Hands down, him coming out made him a better diver, hands down.

(Wilfong finished fifth in platform diving competition at the 2013 United States Winter National Championships. Wilfong also went on to finish second in platform diving at the ACC Championships in 2014 and 2016.)

Wilfong Dorman

Tanner Wilfong and Sam Dorman with Team USA diving in Malaysia in 2014.

Q: What was he doing so well diving?

SD: In practice, he was more attentive. He had more focus. He was into diving. Him coming out put a huge weight off his shoulders.

It's like compare it to someone who is diving and going to school at the same time. Once they're done with school, it's like they can put more focus on this.

It was a distraction that he had to — it was like another personality that he had to uphold and distract him from this, and now, he doesn't have to worry about that.

Q: What's one word you would use to describe Tanner?

SD: That's a whole lot of something into one word. Can I get a couple?

Q: Why do you say that?

SD: Cause Tanner is awesome. He's outgoing, he's fun. He's always got something going on. Everything is different with Tanner. Tanner doesn't follow the crowd. He does what he wants. He's not a follower. That dude is a leader that's for sure.

He does his own thing whether people judge him or not. No matter what, he's going to do his own thing.

Q: Anything else you want to add about Tanner?

SD: He's a kick-ass dude, that's for damn sure. He's a great example that's also for damn sure.