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The Big Interview with diver Oliver Dingley
LONDON 2012 is looming large for Harrogate diver Oliver Dingley. But although he would love to compete next summer, he tells STEVE CARROLL his targets are longer term.
FOR something that lasts only a couple of seconds, there is an awful lot to think about. How high to come off the board? Where to twist for the first turn? How many somersaults? Where to land?
Springboard diving is a sport of fractions.
An inch one way or the other can cost vital points. It is a discipline where everything needs to come right.
The learning curve for Oliver Dingley has almost been as big as the height he leaps off the board. The Harrogate Diving Club athlete was propelled to the summit of the sport when he won a British Championship at the age of just 15.
Two more followed and, last year, the 18-year-old won a gold medal at the European junior championships and competed at the Commonwealth Games.
But now he’s up against the big boys and experience is the thing he needs most.
It’s why Dingley isn’t putting any pressure on himself to perform when the Games light up London next summer. He is looking further ahead.
“It is hard,” he says of the step up in class. “There’s no other way to describe it. Now I am competing against the Chinese, who are dominating the sport, and you have got the Russians and the South Americans as well.
“Being a junior has helped because you get an idea of where you need to be. When you are 14 and you see the 18, 19 and 20-year-olds, you get an idea of who you will be competing against in the future and it’s something to aim for.”
Dingley has been aiming for the top ever since he first took to the pool at the age of seven. Under the tutelage of Damien Ball, he was part of a Harrogate club that was transformed into one of the country’s best.
The youngster progressed quickly and his British title, on the one-metre springboard in 2008, came before he’d had any really significant achievements on the junior scene. It was followed up with more glory in 2009 and 2011 before four years of hard work on the European stage in the junior sphere finally paid dividends in 2010.
“I had just missed out a few times and I worked for the junior title for about four years,” he adds.
“This season I’ve been on the men’s international circuit and, at the start, you feel like a newbie – especially being so young when a lot of guys are in their mid-20s.
“You don’t realise how big a leap it is until you get there and, hopefully, I can be going for the medals in the 2016 Olympics. You don’t get to experience the Olympics in your own country every day but my major goal is 2016 and 2020.
“They say springboard divers can last into their 30s. I’m only 18 so I have got a long career ahead of me.”
Taking part largely in the one-metre and three-metre events, Dingley performs a set number of dives in competition according to a set criteria, which includes the number of somersaults and twists. Judged on all aspects, even down to the size of the splash his entry makes in the water, it is a complicated art.
A points score, awarded out of ten and broken down to include the take-off, flight and entry, is then multiplied by a difficulty factor.
“You are expected to do the same number of somersaults as on a ten-metre board,” Dingley explains. “You get a bit more momentum because of the springboard but it is hard work to try to execute four and a half somersaults.
“People are pushing the boundaries now. Five years ago, no one knew you could do four. Now it’s four-and-a-half. It is very, very fast. It’s over in just a few seconds.
“You have to mentally prepare yourself for each dive. People have their routines and a lot struggle with their nerves. That can wreak havoc. I was once told to use any nerves to give you an advantage and make you more aware of what you have to do.
“I am a lot more confident than I was. When I started on the international circuit I was diving against my idols. My confidence has grown through competing. It’s not that I have achieved other stuff with Great Britain or on the junior circuit, it has been about translating it to the senior circuit.”
So having been a three-time British champion on the metre board, you would think Dingley would be a certainty for 2012 in that discipline. But he has higher aims – literally. “My personal favourite is the metre board but my main focus is the three metre,” he says.
“It’s generally considered a harder board and you get a lot more people competing there. That’s my goal. I feel like I am competitive and I am really looking forward to the Olympics and trying to make the team.
“Even if I don’t get to compete I will be part of the Olympic atmosphere. I have been to the Commonwealth Games and that’s really a mini-Olympics. I have experienced a multi-sport event and you go to breakfast and there is Rebecca Adlington just a few metres away.
“I’m really looking forward to it and I feel confident about it.”
He will also go in under the radar, in diving terms at least. All eyes will be looking up at another teenage sensation. Tom Daley.
“He has done a lot for the sport,” says Dingley. “There has been the publicity. There’s more funding. We can go and achieve more because we have the means to be able to do that.
“Tom has created his legacy and now it is up to the rest of us to go and do the same. It’s a very exciting time. I can’t think of a better time to have picked to be a diver.”