Before starting to guide through the basic rules of diving and help you understand what is with all the heights, twisting and turning, let me give you a bit of background on why I decided to write this article.
Since my mom was a professional diver and my grandmother her coach, I pretty much grew up on the edge of the diving pool. I always enjoyed spending time playing and jumping from every springboard and platform, I even helped out at the Romanian national competitions whenever I had the chance. Plus I always watch the major international competitions, either on TV, online or live if I have the opportunity. Although I practiced diving just for pleasure, as I don’t have the proper physical skills to do it professionally, I have a very wide knowledge of this sport and I would like to share it with all of you.
If you are already diving fans, good for you as you might know some of the information below! If not, you might end up being fans as it is an amazing and beautiful sport.
Did you know?
- 4.000-year-old paintings have been found depicting Babylonians, Chaldeans and Egyptians diving into rivers and seas from high ledges in order to find food or hunt for treasures on the bottom of the sea.
- FINA is the international governing body of swimming, diving, water polo, synchronized swimming and open water swimming. It was founded in 1908 with the purpose of unifying regulations for the aquatic sports, and is currently based in Lausanne, Switzerland.
- Diving is one of the most popular Olympic sports with spectators and the number of overall spectators is growing every year! Because it is a show combining beauty and grace with strength and agility as the body moves through the air.
- High diving and cliff diving are a form of diving too, just that they take place in outdoor environments, athletes dive from higher heights and have different rules for competitions due to safety and security. (article about that very soon!)
How did it all start? The origins of diving
Diving originated from people amusing themselves by jumping and diving from natural features (rocks and cliffs) or from structures built for other purposes (piers and bridges). Many travelers reported amazing feats performed by natives diving from the cliffs in Acapulco, Mexico and Hawaii.
In the early 19th century, the dive was actually a simple plunge, similar to that used by swimmers from the starting block, and the diver aimed to travel as far as possible under water. In Britain, National Plunging Championships were held from 1883 to 1937 and plunging by distance was even included as an official event at the 1904 Summer Olympics in Saint Louis, USA (the only time).
The sport as we know it today developed from gymnastics rather than swimming. At the beginning of the 20th century, the divers were mostly Swedish and German gymnasts who preferred practicing with landings in water rather than on hard floors. During summer, they were transferring the gymnastics equipment to the beaches so that gymnasts could perform acrobatics and land in the sea. Around that times, separate competitions were being held for plain (forward straight dives from platforms) and fancy diving (with gymnastics movements), they unified at the 1928 Summer Olympics.
Springboards? Platforms? Technology and facilities
The early platforms – At first, divers used temporary structures erected out-of-doors for the summer and then dismantled; most involved vertical ladders and were somewhat hazardous, particularly in windy weather.
The early springboards – They consisted of planks of wood covered in coconut matting to prevent divers from slipping and they weren’t elastic at all. Of course, there was no ‘standard’ springboard, so visiting divers having to use an unfamiliar board were always disadvantaged.
Nowadays, the springboard is a flexible board with a movable wheel on the side, which allows divers to leap higher and perform dives with high degrees of difficulty, whereas the platform is a vertical and rigid structure (tower) with several horizontal platforms extending over the pool. In competitive diving, you can see 1m and 3m springboards and 5m, 7.5m and 10m platforms.
In modern diving, besides the springboards, platforms and diving pool, there are many other facilities used to train and learn new techniques, like bubble machines, gymnastics facilities (crash mats, sprung floors) or trampolines. Some can be seen on TV during competitions, other are visible only if you are physically in a diving pool.
How to spot the difference between dives?
Dives are divided into 6 groups – forward (face and rotation forward), backward (face and rotation backwards), reverse (face forward, rotation backwards), inward (face backwards, rotation forward), twisting (any direction, involves a lateral twist), armstand (only for platforms, handstand followed by rotation or twists usually forward and backwards).
Dives may be performed in 3 different body positions – tuck (bend both hips and knees), pike (bend hips, straight legs) and straight (full body straight). Twists usually combine these positions.
The referees give points starting from 0 (completely failed dive) to 10 (perfect dive) and they mostly assess three parts of the dive – approach, flight and entry to the water. The group of dive, body position, number of somersaults or twists give a certain degree of difficulty to the dive, which is then added to the points received from the judges. A flawless entry is not enough if the rest is bad!
In major competitions, divers have a dive list with mostly high degrees of difficulties and are pursuing consistency and scoring high points. Most of the times, an average of 7.5-8 per dive is not enough to earn a medal, especially in men’s competitions where is super tough!
Major diving competitions and type of disciplines
So, we have amateur and masters diving. The amateur competitions are the oldest and the most popular worldwide, whereas the masters ones started in 1974 in the USA and had an official organizing committee established in the 1990s, also under FINA.
The major amateur international diving championships are:
FINA World Aquatics Championships (every 2 years – next Budapest 2017 and Gwangju 2019)
FINA Diving World Cup (every 2 years – one in the Olympic year and future Olympic location as a test event, one in between – currently being held in Rio)
FINA Diving World Series (annually since 2007, several competitions in different world venues, only for top divers, 2016 calendar)
The number of disciplines seen in diving competitions has evolved during times. It started with 3m and platform men and women, then 1m men and women (except the Olympic Games) was added, same-sex synchronized diving since 1998, team event and mixed gender synchronized diving since 2015. So, from 4 disciplines in the 1930s we got to 13 disciplines in 2016! Also, don’t forget that in adult competitions, athletes dive only from the 10m platform!
Who are the leading countries in diving?
China usually gets the most gold medals and often has two divers on the podium in individual events. The Chinese practically dominate the women’s competitions, whereas in men’s competitions the things get more complicated as other countries are very strong too and sometimes they manage to put an end to the Chinese hierarchy. In synchronized diving is tough to beat the Chinese as they approach dives with an identical technique, something that other divers are trying to do also but you can still spot one’s personality or the typical technique used in that country.
The countries that have a long tradition in this sport and are still seen as top competitors are: Russia, Ukraine, Germany, Italy, UK, USA, Canada, Mexico and Australia. They all have Olympic, world and continental medals. Regarding top divers and diving legends, it is a long list and it also depends on the type of event, springboard or platform, but I promise I will make you one in a future article.
What about safety?
I bet you were already wondering about safety. Obviously, there is a risk as you’re flying through the air until you reach the water, but the number of injuries is low during supervised training and competitions. Outside of that it gets complicated. Just remember that the depth of the pool or water is super important, as well as checking for rocks in rivers, sea or oceans. To dive from a 10 m platform and be safe, you need a minimum depth of 5-6 meters!
I honestly hope I didn’t bore you with all details and actually helped you understand better the behind of scenes of this amazing sport. Feel free to ask me any questions and clarify your doubts/curiosities. 🙂
Watch this 90-seconds video for images with some incredible Olympic divers – https://youtu.be/wz4CnT0Un9Y