COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (AP) — The divers were warming up, getting ready for the biggest moment in their lives when, out of nowhere, a man in a blue tutu rushed to the ladder, ran to the edge of the board and swan-dived into the pool.
Nobody saw that one coming.
The Olympics may be the most important event swimmers, runners, weightlifters and the like will ever compete in, but that doesn't make them perfect. As the ongoing stories out of Brazil about Zika and poor water quality have shown, elaborate planning for the most grandiose of sporting events does not guarantee everything will run as expected.
Which is why, as much as they train on the track, in the pool or the weight room, athletes also spend a lot of time getting ready for the out-of-the-blue occurrence that nobody can expect.
A fan jumps over the barrier and tackles a marathoner; the vault gets set too low, causing chaos in a gymnastics meet; a rainstorm hits on a snowboarding course. On and on the scenarios go. Nobody could've predicted any of them.
Decathlete Ashton Eaton first set the world record at the Olympic track trials in 2012, where most of the events were held in steady rain. Eaton's American teammate Trey Hardee said the conditions equate to "an 11th event."
"Every athlete out there tries to act like that stuff doesn't bother them, but it does," Hardee said.
At the U.S. Olympic Committee's headquarters, sports psychologist Karen Cogan works with dozens of athletes, helping them prepare to deal with the unexpected when their moment comes in Rio.
"It's not so important that we nail the things that are going to happen, but it's the process about going through the 'what-ifs,' and what would you do," Cogan said. "That's something they take with them, and then they're ready to deal with whatever comes their way."
A sampling from a very long list:
—In 2000, a startling number of gymnasts ran up to the Olympic vault during the women's all-around, did the jump and landed on their backsides. Scores were alarming low. After half the gymnasts had gone, organizers realized the vault had been set 2 inches too low. Gymnasts were given a chance to redo their vault but some had already moved on to the next event and scored poorly there, thinking their chances at a medal were doomed. "Definitely a hard thing to bounce back from," American gymnast Elise Ray said. "It affects your frame of mind."
—In 2004, a defrocked priest in a red kilt leaped onto the course and grabbed the race leader, who had trouble regaining his bearings and finished third. "If you stop in a marathon, you struggle the next three or four kilometers. It's hard to get your rhythm back," said bronze medalist Vanderlei de Lima of Brazil. That incident came only a few days after the man in a tutu and clown's shoes disrupted the springboard diving finals by climbing to the top of the platform and jumping in the pool. Also that year, gymnastics fans booed for 10 straight minutes to voice displeasure with a high-bar score given to Russian superstar Alexei Nemov, leaving Paul Hamm pacing and waiting to start his routine. "I felt like I was in a movie," Hamm said.
—At the Winter Games in 2010, snowboard riders woke up to a rainstorm and heavy fog in the mountains outside Vancouver. Rider after rider wiped out on the soaking-wet, glasslike parallel giant slalom course. Had it been a World Cup event, "they probably would have canceled it," American Tyler Jewell said. "But this is the Olympics."
—In 2012, a spectator threw a plastic bottle onto the track moments before the gun went off in the 100-meter final. It didn't bother Usain Bolt, or anyone racing against him. "When they say, 'On your marks, that's when the focus starts," he said.
Indeed, much of the mental training for these athletes involves blocking out distractions, no matter how bizarre or difficult they may seem.
When it comes to Zika or the dirty water in Brazil, Cogan said American athletes have to trust that the preparations have been made and they've been briefed on the pros and cons of competing. Among her techniques is teaching "mindfulness," which allows athletes to live more in the moment, not get caught up in positives and negatives of certain things that can happen. It involves meditation, and can be used in many walks of life, including sports.
"You can see how that's helpful in competition, when they're distracted by somebody else, or something going on in the stands, or there's some delay of some sort," Cogan said. "They want to regain their focus so their performance isn't affected. It's a learned skill, and something they have to practice in competition and develop as part of their skill set."
Eaton, who broke his own world record last year at world championships, says he knows strange things could happen, but focusing on his performance is the best preparation.
"Anything you can't control, you just say, 'To hell with it, I can't do anything about it,'" he said.
AP Sports Writer Pat Graham in Denver contributed to this report.