From the outset of this project, I said if I could veto any sport, it would be this one, my thirty second – diving. Because of this, it’s felt like a lot of this project has been building up to some grand finale, where I hurl myself from the 10m platform at Crystal Palace, overcoming all my fears, into the pool. We can all imagine the scene, it’s in slow motion naturally, though I’m not diving headfirst because I’m not insane. Admittedly, a slow motion pencil jump is less impressive than one with somersaults, but whatever. The applause is rapturous and accompanied by that Sigur Ros song which would also have been played in my imagined BBC montage of David Beckham lifting the World Cup Trophy in 2006. Say what you like about the BBC, but no one does a sporting montage like they do, even if both of these montages are actually figments of my imagination, which in fairness proves my original point that the BBC would have done it better.
I emerge from the pool a hero, but not in slow motion, because no one needs to see that, though it’d be less emotionally confusing than a genuine BBC montage of Tom Daley from last year’s Olympics. Whoever picked “The Man with the Child in his eyes” as the montage tune of choice, I salute you as I chuckle and simultaneously vomit in my own mouth a bit.
A friend of mine rather uncharitably said that the whole project would have fallen on it’s arse if I didn’t rise to this challenge. I mean the 10m platform bit, not all the slow motion and applause and that, I just made that stuff up because I’m padding a bit, here. I know that he wasn’t alone in this. However, the rules I set at the beginning of this project were that I must complete at least one event per Olympic discipline, so I didn’t have to jump from the 10m platform, the 3m springboard would suffice. Though I have played a little hard a fast with the rules on a few occasions, so even if it wasn’t an option, let’s face it, I’d have found a way round it. This is a benign dictatorship, after all.
I don’t want to ruin the ending for you, but i didn’t jump from the 10m platform, which I regret a little bit, until I remember how scared I was standing on a 1m platform. Do you have any idea how high 10m is? I’ve measured it in a number of ways that demonstrate desirable character traits, in the weeks preceding this event. For example, three times as high as a Center Parcs chalet (aspirational), five times as tall as my mate, Stef (popular), and probably higher than the ceiling in the BFI (very cultured).
As we know, I’m scared of EVERYTHING, and throwing myself face first into a swimming pool from a great height is no exception here. But you know what? In the last 11 months, I’ve been BMXing, mountain biking, track cycling at a velodrome, and I have posted a video (which has been seen by senior members of staff whom I work with) of myself, in a leotard, dancing to the theme tune from Black Beauty. So please, and I know I doth protest too much now, by all means, you get up there first and keep the platform warm for me – I have nothing to prove.
So I’d been putting off diving, and by the time I’d finally made contact with Crystal Palace Diving Club, they were about to break for the summer holidays, so I could come along next Wednesday, their coach told me, or not until 4 September which is about 8 days after my year’s deadline passes. I don’t know if having no time to get used to the idea that this was happening was better or worse, but I was very nervous when I arrived at the side of the pool on that fateful Wednesday evening.
Like many of the more niche olympic sports I’ve tried, diving is a kid’s game, really. Perhaps demand for adult diving classes is pretty small, what with the whole death-fear that kids don’t seem to be afflicted by, but given the high demand for one of London’s three or so diving pools, the adults only get 45 minutes a week at the moment.
The class is made up of a mixed bunch – some guys in their 40-50s, some who I guess are about the same age as me, and a couple of girls who are probably a little younger than me. Some of the guys are incredible, hurling themselves into the pool by way of a back-flip, whilst some have slightly more basic skills. I’m not sure that I see anyone on the 10m platform, but certainly there are some on the 7.5m board, whilst others are on the 1m Springboard where I also start. It’s a real mixture of ability and experience, and coach Rachel is obviously very comfortable with the full range.
I gingerly climb onto the 1m springboard to start off with some pencil jumps into the pool. These have a proper name, obviously, which i want to say is the pike, but that might be the one where you lift your legs in front of you, to be honest. I would be lying if I said I was anything other than terrified even jumping off the 1m springboard, it takes me a bloody long time to do it and I even manage to do that badly. I eventually emerge, gasping for air in a bit of a panic, if I’m honest, kind of hoping that no one has noticed and that I’ve somehow styled it out. After a few more of these with a few other shapes mixed in, Rachel decides I will try a real dive from the 1m platform.
Rachel instructs me to put one hand over the other and raise my arms above my head. Lean over and tuck my head between my arms, stand on my tiptoes and just “reach down” into the pool. There are two problems with this, from my perspective. Firstly, when someone’s trying to convince me that I should throw myself face-first off something, I really need more instruction than “just reach down”, secondly, there is a real possibility that I will be sick a. in my mouth, b. in the pool. Apologies for all the sick talk, going on today, and rest assured I don’t use it gratuitously, but to fully convey my feelings of terror, and Tom Daley-based confusion.
I manage to make myself do it, though the initial results are not great. For a start, my legs are not where they ought to be, and bent over my head rather than in the perfectly straight line that I’m aiming for. Secondly, I seem to be landing chest rather than head first, when I hit the water. For anyone who’s ever done a belly-flop, you’ll understand that this was, at best, uncomfortable. The problem with this diving lark is, as soon as you demonstrate you’re able to do something, it gets progressively harder quite rapidly, and before long I’m chucking myself off the 2.5m platform. I can tell you that the higher up you get, the more it hurts when you clumsily connect with the water, for example, chest first.
Rachel asks me if I’m scared of heights, which I am a bit, and she must wonder what an earth I’m doing here. But she suggests that I watch one of the other girls. She’s a bit scared of heights too, in fact, she won’t even come off the steps and onto the board until it’s her turn, but she dives beautifully, which is pretty impressive.
As my finale, I manage to jump from the 3m springboard, which is technically the minimum I need to achieve in order to have fulfilled this event, though Rachel, sensing that I’m starting to hit my stride a bit, suggests I have one last go jumping from the 5m platform, but it’s all too much for me. I’ve not really played it safe on very many occasions during this project, but I’m happy to let myself wimp out on this occasion. And because I actually think, relatively speaking, I’ve been incredibly brave this week, I’m giving myself the gold medal, but many many thanks to the patience of Crystal Palace Diving Club members, for putting up with my mild hysteria.
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