Dublin schoolgirl Natasha MacManus (17) is Ireland’s top female diver. She finished 10th at last summer’s inaugural European Games in Baku and competes in Rio de Janeiro this weekend in diving’s final qualifying event for the 2016 Olympics.
More than 250 divers from 50 countries will compete at FINA’s Diving World Cup in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil this weekend. 88 Olympic spots are up for grabs across four synchronised and four individual events. Ireland will be represented by Natasha MacManus and Oliver Dingley.
Q: Diving is not exactly a common sport. How did you get into it?
“I was big into gymnastics, swimming, and diving when I was younger but I dislocated and fractured my arm twice on the (uneven) bars and also had a lot of problems with my knees so, when I was around 10 or 11, I concentrated just on diving. My mum used to dive for South Africa and her dad was her coach, so I guess it’s in the family.”
Q: Isn’t diving also pretty harsh on the body?
“If you land badly from the platforms (from 5 to 10 metres high), it can feel like you’ve got whiplash. You come up and can’t breathe and feel like you’ll get sick. But the more experience you have, you get over the fear of landing flat. It’ll hurt for maybe five minutes max and then it’s gone. You might be a bit bruised but you just need to get over yourself, count to three and go again.”
Q: What are the scariest dives to learn?
“I find reverses hard. You start by facing forward but then rotate backwards. That’s quite scary as your head is coming towards the board. The hardest bit is take-off. Once you take off, your muscle memory just does it.”
Q: Is it all trial and error in the pool?
“No, we mix pool work with a lot of dry-land training. I’m a member of Shamrock Diving Club at the National Aquatic Centre (NAC) in Abbotstown and the same campus also contains Gymnastic Ireland’s training centre so we get to use their trampolines, harnesses, and foam-pit.”
Q: Is your training location handy?
“Not really, I live in Rathmichael, near Shankill, on the far side of the city where I also go to school in Mount Anville so I travel across town twice most days for training. I’m in NAC from 8am to 11am, get to school halfway through fourth lesson and, after school, come straight back over to NAC to train from 5pm to 8pm. On Wednesdays I just do an evening session but I train on Saturdays too. Sunday is my only day off.”
Q: Sounds like an exhausting, logistical nightmare. Have you been doing that for the past five years?
“No. When I was 14, I went to England and spent three years in Plymouth College, a boarding school which attracts a lot of young athletes from around the world. It is very close to British diving’s high performance training centre and the school attracts a lot of swimmers, divers and pentathletes.”
Q: Any famous names?
“In English class I used to sit beside Ruta Meilutyte (Lithuania’s 15-year-old breaststroke champion in London 2012) and think ‘Wow! The girl next to me has an Olympic gold medal!’ Tom Daley also trained there for my first year and a half. He was a day-pupil as his family is from Plymouth but yes, we’re on first-name terms.”
Q How hard was it to leave home at 14?
“I was the ‘Irish girl’ who sounded really funny and they made me say all sorts of words to hear my accent. In the beginning it was quite tough but, when you have a group of friends who are living a similar lifestyle, it is fine.
My best friend Poppy was a runner but had to cope with the exact same things like time-management and juggling school, training, and a social life.”
Q: Haven’t you also the Leaving Cert and a European Championships this summer?
“Yes but I’m used to it. Every opportunity you have you pick up a book. If you’re not sleeping you need to be working. I got 10 GSCEs and three A-levels (chemistry, biology, and history) while in England and am doing six subjects for the Leaving. I’d love to get a diving scholarship in America. Princeton is my dream college.”
Q: What made you return from Plymouth?
“With Oliver Dingley (ex-British diver) now competing for Ireland, he and his coach Damian Ball moved to train at the NAC. Damien is a really good coach and Swim Ireland arranged for me to train with them, so it has been brilliant. Ollie is also here in Rio trying to qualify for the Olympics.”
Q: What do you need to do?
“I missed last summer’s world championships because I was competing in Baku so this is my only chance and I’ll have five dives in the 3 metre competition. The top 18 automatically qualify but, depending on whether some countries take up their full allocation, a place in the top 30 might get through.”
Q: What do your friends think?
“To be competing in the Olympic pool and staying in the Olympic village is unbelievable and my friends are in awe as well. I think we’re all a bit ‘what?’ Going to school is almost like keeping my sanity because you’re surrounded by friends who aren’t training and talking diving all the time. It’s really nice to be brought back to earth.”
Q: What’s the hardest bit of your lifestyle?
“It’s tough being tired all the time… but then sixth year is a tough one for all of us so I can’t really complain.”
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