Olympic hopefuls take the plunge

So, here’s the thing.

You’ve dedicated seven years of your young life to qualifying for an Olympic Games and now it all boils down to one event in which a split second late here or a centimetre or two off there will be the difference between making Rio later this year or watching it on the box.

Welcome to life on the edge as an elite diver.

It is 68 years since Dublin’s Eddie Heron last represented Ireland on an Olympic diving board but two prospects will hope to bridge that gap as they head for Brazil today and next week’s FINA Diving World Cup in Rio’s Maria Lenk Aquatics Centre which will also host the Olympic event this summer.

Oliver Dingley, once of Team GB but now a fully-fledged Irish athlete, has high hopes of making the semi-finals and booking his passage in the men’s event, while Natasha MacManus will step up to the plate in the women’s 3m springboard and 10m platform events.

MacManus will turn 18 during this trip to Brazil so time is clearly on her side. Like Dingley, she requires a top 18 finish. There may be another route courtesy of continental places but it could be May before they are distributed and no-one will want to wait that long.

There are no required, ‘easy’ dives in Rio next week. Only optionals. Forward, backward, reverse, inward and twist. And there will be no limit placed on the degree of difficulty as MacManus looks to progress through the preliminary to the semi-finals and, with that, Olympic qualification.

A fine balance needs to be struck.

The higher the degree of difficulty the greater the risk. The lower the degree of difficulty the less points are on offer. It is the same Catch 22 with which every diver must wrestle and MacManus will pare her options down carefully with coach Damian Ball.

“It does depend on your coach,” she explains. “Even more so than the diver herself. It is very much what they think you are capable of doing and the probability of you getting it right or wrong. You can nail the dive once, but in ten dives you might not get it the other nine.

“So, you both make the call about how comfortable you are on the board and how comfortable you are going for the dive. You need to be comfortable with the technicalities of the dive, the mental preparedness and how you feel and then your strength on the day.

That’s the plan. Has been since she was ten.

Gymnastics was her first love but a couple of fractured arms and the possibility of knee surgery persuaded ten-year old MacManus to go elsewhere. Her mother Jenny was a former Springbok diver with South Africa so it made sense for the family to try the National Aquatic Centre (NAC).

That wasn’t as straightforward as it sounds. This was in the days when the toll bridge still stood astride the M50 like a mocking colossus and a drive from their Rathmichael home in South Dublin to Blanchardstown that should have taken 30 minutes stretched at times to three hours.

Diving made it worthwhile.

“It is something that is quite difficult to get your head around when you are doing a difficult dive. I still can’t really comprehend it. ‘Oh my gosh, I am spinning around two-and-a-half times in a different direction. Then I land on my head and somehow it all works and I’m fine by the end of it’.”

MacManus was soon the model athlete but in a system that was far from fashionable. The diving club in the NAC was “shaky” and “basically imploded” so she began the even longer commute over and back to Plymouth in the UK where her excellence was reflected in the British set-up.

She’s back home now, nestled snugly in a new and improved diving club and culture where she, her coach and Dingley form the apex of a small but burgeoning community and MacManus’ CV is following suit with major competitions banked on at least four continents so far.

Naturally, the Olympics would crown all that.

“I’m going to try and dive to the best of my potential and that is all I can do. Whether I fall short on the day or manage to do it, the opportunity to actually go and compete in the Olympic trials will be just incredible and I’m very lucky. Diving is one of those things where it can either be your day or it won’t.

“You could literally be a fraction of a second off and it can go very wrong or very right. A split second, whether you are at the right angle off the board or if you come out of your twist a bit early or late and then you can get a bit shaky in the air. You can never say whether it is going to happen of not.”

Maybe, but it will be fun finding out.


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