The Sport of Diving

Photo credit: Markus Spiske.

“Ellie, 5122 D: forward somersault one twist free DD 1.9, Caroline on deck.”

The announcer’s voice blurs into background noise as I hop on the diving board, using the side rails to boost me up onto the rough aluminum surface. I turn around to adjust the fulcrum on the board’s side, pushing down on the wheel with my left foot to roll the fulcrum towards the front of the board. When the center of the fulcrum lines up with the “2” on the set of numbers on the side of the board, and the board is sufficiently less bouncy, I turn back around to face the water. Lining my heels up with the “5,” I raise my chin and stare at the water. I feel every muscle in my body tense up, my hands taut with apprehension.

“Jump, throw, twist, out, jump, throw, twist, out.”

I blink slowly, and a wave of forced relaxation washes over me. Breath in. Breath out.

“1… 2… 3… Go.”

I lift my right foot and begin my front approach. After two steps, I simultaneously lift my left knee to a 90º angle and step down with my right foot, bringing my arms up to either side of my ears. Jumping onto the end of the board with both feet, I quickly swing my arms in a circle and then, feeling the board lift me into the air, throw my arms down to start my flip. As I’ve done this dive practically a million times, my body takes it from there: my arms wrapping and squaring out, my torso and legs maintaining a straight and tight line. After a second of flying through the air, having completed a somersault and a full 360º twist, I enter the water with my toes pointed and my arms by my side. Dive complete.

Diving. No, not scuba diving. Diving, as in the sport where athletes jump off of spring or platform boards at varying heights and perform acrobatics. Diving is one of the most popular Olympic sports, always having a high number of spectators. Attracted to the risky but graceful entertainment diving provides, people travel from all over the world to watch Olympians compete, while many also tune in on television or the Internet.

When I asked a few of my classmates what they thought of when hearing the word “diving,” I got pretty accurate responses. Colleen Marlatt (‘18) thought of “sick cool flips,” while Lee Kennon (‘18) said “really high diving boards.” Upper School history teacher Courtney Schweickart even told me a story about watching a dive meet: “When I was about four years old, I went to go see the Olympic Trials in Annapolis. [5 time Olympic medalist] Greg Louganis was there.”

Flips, high dives, the Olympics, and Greg Louganis: these four things are what many Americans think of when they think about diving. And they are right: diving is an Olympic sport where divers perform flips off of sometimes very high platforms, and the American Olympian Greg Louganis is still widely considered the greatest diver in history. Diving, however, is also made up of more than just these four things.

There are multiple levels of diving in the United States, including casual summer league, high school, club, college, and master’s level diving. The regulated competition events include one meter and three meter springboard, and five meter, seven meter, and ten meter platform. There is also a synchronized diving event, adopted into the Olympics in 2000. Often summer league and high school level diving only use the one meter springboard, and sometimes the three meter. More intense club, college, or professional divers use both the springboards and the platforms, with individual divers more often specializing on either platform or springboard.

Image credit: Visual Dictionary Online.

There are six groups, or “directions” of dives one can choose from when picking dives to compete. These six groups are forward, back, inward, reverse, twist, and armstand (armstand is only performed on platform). For forwards, the diver uses a front approach and throws the dive forward, away from the board. Similarly, for backs, the diver starts on the end of the board facing away from the water and throws their body backwards, away from the board. When performing reverses, divers start facing forward, but then rotate toward the board, throwing the dive backwards while still facing forwards. For inwards, divers face backwards to start, and throw their dive forward, rotating towards the board. The twist category simply means one performs a dive from one of the first four categories with an added twist. For armstand dives, divers start their dive in a held handstand at the edge of the platform. In addition to the direction of the dive, divers must also choose a position in which to perform the dive: straight, pike, tuck, in or free position (only for twisting dives).

Every dive comes with a certain number and letter to describe the direction, number of somersaults or twists, and the position of the dive. These dive numbers are typically 3-4 digits in length, with one letter at the end (example: 101A, 302C, 5221D). The first number in the dive’s “code” corresponds to the direction: 1 for forward, 2 for back, 3 for reverses, 4 for inwards, 5 for twists, and 6 for armstand. For the first four categories, the middle digit of the three digit number is always a zero and is basically meaningless. The last digit for a dive from these first four categories represents the number of half somersault rotations the diver performs; for example, a 4 would mean two full somersaults. The letters following the dive’s number represent the position of the dive: A means straight, B means pike, C means tuck, and D means straight. Thus a 402C is an inward one somersault performed in the tuck position.

Image credit: Visual Dictionary Online. 

In addition to the dive’s number-letter label, each dive also is assigned a “DD” or a degree of difficulty. For the one meter springboard, the DD ranges from a low 1.2 to a very challenging 3.5. The more flips or twists a diver can perform, often the higher the DD, or difficulty. Changing the position of a dive can also bump up the DD a couple of tenths. Straight position is considered the hardest position, and thus straight dives have a higher DD. The DD of dives was not officially assigned until 1994, and since then it has not faced much change.

Another confusing aspect of diving to outsiders is the scoring of a dive and how divers manage to win dive meets. In national meets and large high school competitions, a panel of seven judges will score each dive. Judges score the dive based off of the height of the dive’s top, the distance between the entry point and the diving board (optimally around two feet), the body positioning of the diver, the correctness of the number of rotations and twists, the angle of entry, and the splash upon entry. Judges do not take into account the difficulty of the dive performed. Each judge will give a score between zero and ten, and then the three median scores out of the seven will be taken, added together, and multiplied by the DD to get the actual score. A score of zero means the dive failed completely; a half to two translates to unsatisfactory; two to four and a half means deficient. On the second half of the scale, five to six means satisfactory; six and a halves to eights are given to good dives; and eight and a half to tens are rarely seen, only given out to nearly perfect dives. After the final round of dives, meet officials add each diver’s scores together to come up with a final score; the diver with the highest final score wins the meet. The best strategy to winning meets is to perform difficult dives well.

Collegiate’s divers. Photo credit: Collegiate School.

Collegiate, unbeknownst to many, has a dive team. A mighty twelve people, we have quadrupled in size since the mere three divers of the 2010-2011 season. While officially a part of the Collegiate Swim and Dive team, we often get lumped into just the “swim team.” Diving is an event at a swim meet; however, it is nothing like swimming. The dive and swim teams also practice and often compete at completely different times in different facilities. The Collegiate swim team practices at the Greater Richmond Area Pool, also known as CSAC (Collegiate School Aquatics Center), every school day from 4:00-6:00 p.m. during the swim season. The dive team practices at St. Catherine’s School —when Collegiate contributed money to CSAC, none went to building a diving well—from 7:00-9:00 p.m. on Mondays and Wednesdays, and from 2:00-4:00 p.m. on Sundays. Two of the divers, A. Moore (‘22) and myself, do both diving and swimming, and dive team co-captain Caroline Hall (‘18) does both track and diving. Our 12-person team gains a few members for each practice as we share our practice time and our coach with divers from Trinity Episcopal.

With such a small team, an inconvenient practice schedule, combined practices with Trinity taking place at a rival school’s facility, and a lack of recognition as a sport by many schoolmates, diving can sound like a lousy winter sport. To all of us divers, however, it is worth it. According to Hall, she loves the sport because “although diving can be considered an individual sport rather than a team sport, it doesn’t feel that way. I never feel tension between team mates, even though we’re all technically competing against each other. Instead, we do things like jump into the pool and congratulate each other every time someone learns a new dive or chant funny things after they execute a dive well during a meet. Not only is our team chemistry always positive and encouraging, the whole diving community is quite literally a family.” The team’s other co-captain, Kieran Cottrell (‘18), says, “the thing that really gets me to go to practice is that I know I will always face something new or at least just have a fun and relaxing practice. Whether it be a new dive, warmup exercise, or even a new diver, there’s always something fresh about practice. And on the off chance there isn’t something new, practice is just a place where I can take my mind off of school and do some diving, listen to music, and hang out with a great group of people.” Andrew Scott (‘18), a year-round diver who has attended multiple national meets, is pursuing diving in college and claims to love the sport because “of the adrenaline you get. There is no other sport that compares to it. The feeling you get when you dive off of ten meter is indescribable.”

This past year in States, divers contributed 71 points to the swim team’s total 392 points. As there are 24 events in a swim meet, to have contributed just under 1/5 of the points is astounding. We also clinched first place for both girls and boys diving in States, with Hall taking first for the second year in a row, and Scott bumping up to first from his second place finish last year. None of these accomplishments would have been possible without the help of our coach, 2017’s VISAA Dive Coach of the Year, Diane Maiese.

Starting the sport at the young age of eight with her summer club, Maiese’s diving was on the back-burner until a career-ending gymnastics injury allowed her to join a Junior Olympic dive team at age 13. Maiese finished her career as a diver at age 28, moving on from competing to become a mom and a college dive coach. Diving is known to be a very mentally challenging sport, and she wholeheartedly understands this, saying “the hardest part (of diving) for me was believing I was any good. It took me until I was 21 to have any confidence in my diving, despite my previous accomplishments as a diver.” Miaese takes this into account when coaching diving, her experience shaping her coaching style to be “making sure they are having fun. A diver shouldn’t feel pressured to do something, that will just add to the fear and makes a dive that much harder. Most divers will progress when they believe they can do the dive, not from me telling them.” Before coming to coach the Collegiate dive team, Maiese coached at multiple summer clubs, three division one colleges, and assistant-coached three junior programs in New Jersey, California, and Colorado. Having coached since she was 17, she still enjoys is 25 years later, and she says her favorite part of her coaching job is “the divers! They are the reason I keep coming back.”

About the author

Ellie Angle is a junior at Collegiate.