I have had the great fortune to have been on the governing board of Diving New Zealand for the last five years. When I tell people this, they think I mean scuba diving.
Maybe because in this country the sports of platform and springboard diving don’t receive the kind of adulation afforded in China or Malaysia or even Australia. Given, we haven’t produced a recent international medallist, and in this country that’s the currency of sporting publicity, albeit for a brief time between rugby seasons or in an Olympic year.
New Zealand has proudly sent a handful of divers to the Olympic and Commonwealth Games over the years; the most recent Games in Glasgow seeing two male divers make the finals.
Globally, China is most definitely the undisputed dominant force. In fact at the World Championships in July last year, only three of the 13 titles didn’t go the Chinese way.
An in-your-face reflection of this success means that the sport of diving exports Chinese coaches to the world, like New Zealand does rugby coaches. To the degree that in Australia alone, any coaching conferences and manuals are automatically translated into Mandarin.
Diving, as with all sports, is one that the good guys make look as easy as, well, falling off a platform. Tumbling with grace and finesse while dropping like a stone off a ten-metre-high platform is far from easy. Team New Zealand famously practised man-overboard-from-a-mammoth-catamaran scenarios from the 10m, apparently spooking hardened athletes at various levels.
Competitive diving athletes are divided by gender, and often by age group. In platform events, competitors are allowed to perform their dives on either the five, seven and a half (generally just called seven), nine, or ten metre towers. In major diving meets, including the Olympics and the World Championships, platform diving is only from the 10m. Springboard diving is performed from 3m and 1m boards and as its name would suggest, it comes back up to meet you when you first jump on it so timing is everything.
Contrary to popular belief it’s not just the least amount of splash on entry that counts. Usually a score considers three elements of the dive: the approach, the flight, and the entry, so elements such as when a handstand is required, consider the time and quality of the hold (yep, that’s right, a handstand on the 10m platform before you dive).
Part of the scoring for springboard is around the height a diver can reach at the top of the dive, with extra height resulting in a higher score. So yes, the more you risk that board coming up to meet you, the more powerful jump you have, and the timing of your landing and jumping again even higher into the dive, the better chance you have of scoring well.
And it doesn’t take much Google searching to find the things that can go horribly wrong, which is why scoring also accounts for the distance of the diver from the board during the dive – too close and you lose points, which is substantially better than losing the back of your head one would think.
Diving New Zealand has a fantastic skills testing programme in place which is rolled out in enthusiastic schools and pools, that teaches the basic movement patterns and tricks of diving in a safe and progressive manner. Often divers will come over to the sport from gymnastics or trampolining backgrounds for obvious reasons, and although it could be argued diving is an early specialisation sport (starts young) the skills can definitely be taught to adults and become an enjoyable way to increase movement capacity and flexibility.
Diving training also involves ‘dry land’ training which works with indoor springboards surrounded by mats and foam pits and the occasional harness to help learn tumbles. All in all, a rather impressive set of skills, power, physique and courage which is why diving remains one of the most watched sports at the Olympic Games.