Oliver Dingley’s Ireland move could be springboard to glory

Oliver Dingley had dreamed of winning a medal at a major diving event for 14 years before he earned the right to stand on the podium at the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow in the summer of 2014.

Oliver Dingley’s Ireland move could be springboard to glory

It wasn’t quite the moment the 21-year old had waited so long for. Though born and bred in the North Yorkshire spa town of Harrogate, Dingley had an Irish grandparent and he had already decided to approach Swim Ireland about switching allegiances even before the bronze medal was hung around his neck.

“It was quite emotional. I had worked my heart out for two years to get on that podium and I knew at that point that it was the last time I would be representing Great Britain or England. It was a decision that I haven’t looked back on, but it was a very strange position to be in.”

The youngest ever British champion on the one-metre springboard at just 15, he finished second in the British trials for the 2012 Olympic Games. Team GB had two spots but, controversially, chose the diver who finished third.

“Heartbreaking,” he called it. It is a word he uses three times in a 30-minute chat. Other trips for which he was overlooked are mentioned, too.

The final straw came just days before the Commonwealth Games when the team leader decided he would not compete in his main medal event. Though “devastated”, he still claimed that bronze in the three-metre springboard, but his decision so move across the Irish Sea was made.

The diving world is a small one and Dingley put out some discreet feelers through Ben Fox, Swim Ireland’s diving chief at the time, and someone he knew from the circuit. It could have gone one of two ways: yes or no. Luckily for him, Ireland proved to be a land of welcomes. It’s a decision he hasn’t questioned for a moment.

In the UK, he was lucky to see a physiotherapist once a fortnight while a good chunk of his funding was used on the sort of strength and conditioning support which is so vital for someone who must propel himself off a platform as unstable as a springboard.

His praise for the setup in Dublin is unreserved, by comparison. S&C staff, physiotherapists, psychologists and every other support he needs are just minutes away on the National Sports Campus where he lives and trains with other Swim Ireland athletes. Dingley talks about the pride he will take when – always when, not if – he qualifies for Rio at February’s one-shot-only qualifier.

Ireland hasn’t had a representative in Olympic diving since Dublin’s Eddie Heron featured in the early stages in London in 1948 before one of the many disputes over jurisdiction issues which plagued that year’s Irish team forced the withdrawal of the nation’s swimmers and divers.

“I am very lucky to be in this situation where I might be able to achieve some Irish history and I am very proud of that,” says Dingley.

“There are some very talented divers in Ireland, some very young ones and we will have a very big squad in 2020 and beyond. I am very lucky to be at the forefront of that as it starts. To be that first person on an Olympic diving board in 68 years will be amazing.”

His transition has been eased by the happy coincidence that saw his coach Damian Ball decide to move to Dublin at more or less the same time. The pair have worked together since Dingley was seven, but their decisions were made entirely without the knowledge of what the other was doing.

Like his charge, Ball had cause for grievance with the British authorities having sat out last year’s Commonwealths despite providing two divers for the team. He, too, wants to experience an Olympics and world championships though the latter passed them by three months back. Dingley had to serve a year’s hiatus from representative competitions before he could be eligible for Ireland. That moratorium finally ended on October 29 and he will represent Ireland for the first time at the Irish Open Championships at the National Aquatic Centre (NAC) this weekend.

Even that will be compromised by an ankle and tendon injury suffered in a fall down some stairs during the summer. It is still causing a significant degree of discomfort as he prepares to share a stage with his old GB colleague Tom Daley who is also on the bill at the NAC.

Daley has transcended the diving community in the UK and helped bring the sport to the attention of a larger audience. Dingley doesn’t make grandiose claims of doing something similar here, but being in the vanguard for Irish diving is something that clearly energises him.

“I can’t wait now. I feel like I have waited long enough.”

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