Thursday, August 30, 2018

Scottish Diving 2018 Season Review

Four divers

Scottish diving reached new heights in 2018, with medals on the biggest stages plus international representation for a quartet of quality divers for the first time, the likes of which we have never seen before.

Grace Reid, James Heatly, Gemma McArthur and Lucas Thomson are the trailblazers, and each has plenty of reasons to be pleased with their efforts this season.

Reid picked up a Gold at the Commonwealth Games to go with a Gold and Silver at the European Championships, while Heatly claimed two Bronze medals at the same competitions. For Thomson and McArthur, it was a case of making the most of the opportunities presented to them.

22-year-old Reid has cemented her position as one of Britain's top divers, male or female, and has dealt with the challenges thrown her way in 2018 with aplomb to become a Commonwealth and European champion.

Reid began the season with Tom Daley as her Mixed 3m synchro partner, winning two Grand Prix Silver medals back to back in the early part of the year. Unfortunately Daley fell victim to injury and then decided to take a sabbatical from the sport altogether for the rest of 2018 early to focus in the arrival of his baby (congratulations once again, Tom and Dustin!).

With Daley out of action, Reid turned to Ross Haslam of Sheffield. The DIVE London athlete was using the event to improve her overall confidence on the 3m board and the new partnsership took little time to get up to speed, picking up a Bronze in their first World Cup event in China before claiming a Silver in front of a home crowd at Glasgow 2018 to go along with her individual Gold in the 3m springboard. Reid also came agonisingly close to another Gold with Kat Torrance in the 3m synchro, but the pair ended up fourth due to an error on the last dive.

Team Scotland Diving Coach and Performance Coach at Edinburgh Diving Club, Jen Leeming, watched Reid move from Edinburgh to London last season, and was on poolside for the Scot's two biggest achievements this year.

Commenting on Reid's 1m springboard victory at the Commonwealth Games in Gold Coast, which was the first Gold medal won by a Scottish diver in 60 years, and the first by a Scottish female at a Commonwealth Games, Leeming said: “It was incredible for her to walk away with a Gold medal from there and it shows where she could go in the next couple of years.

“1m is really important for springboard divers as it helps them to develop their list of dives for the 3m and show potential for the future. So essentially, for Grace that 1m springboard win was a real milestone because she was up against the best of the Commonwealth, who are also some of the best in the world."

Looking to the future, Tokyo 2020 is now within Reid's sights, where she will likely have the opportunity to compete on the boards in both the 3m individual and the 3m synchro. Leeming says that Reid is more than capable of reaching and surpassing the heights of Rio 2016 where she made the final and finished in the top eight.

And in terms of the maturity Reid has shown this season, Leeming said: “One thing that Grace offers is that she’s very self-aware and self-confident, and that’s a good education for the younger divers. Grace provides someone to follow and take a lead from. She’s an excellent role model not only within the Scottish team but also the British team.”

Perhaps the most emotive moment of the season was watching James Heatly claim a Bronze medal in the 1m springboard at the Commonwealth Games, and in doing so made history by becoming the first Scot to win a diving medal since his late grandfather, Sir Peter Heatly.

On that moment, Leeming commented: “It’s been an absolutely incredible year for James, he’s spent a lot of time trying to chase his Grandpa’s goals and achievements so at the CG when he was diving in that 1m event he knew exactly what he wanted and he put in some of the best dives he’s ever done in his life on 1m.

“All the pressure and expectation that was on him he didn’t let it bother him at all. And when he finished up in third he was just over the moon and that’s when it all hit him, it was emotional and I was delighted for him because he’s worked so hard over the last couple of seasons aiming for the Games.”

Heatly’s medal in Australia provided him with even more confidence for the rest of the season, with the added knowledge that he had the toughest list of dives for the 1m springboard going into the European Championships. Leeming said this reinforced the belief that if he performed to his capabilities, a medal was all but guaranteed. Heatly then produced a brilliant performance to claim Bronze in front of a raucous home crowd.

Gemma McArthur made her international debut at the Commonwealth Games, and went on to make the final of the 10m platform event.

Leeming, who has worked with McArthur since she joined Edinburgh Diving Club, said: “Gemma was delighted to make the Commonwealth Games team, that was one of her main goals going into the season.

"She was quite nervous when she got there but making the final was great for her career and I know she’s already got her eyes set on the next one.

“She’ll be more experienced by that point so I’m looking forward to seeing what she can do between now and 2022.”

Leeming described McArthur’s Diving Grand Prix performance in Bolzano in July as her true breakthrough meet, where she came home with a hat-trick of medals, two Silver and one Bronze. Building on her Commonwealth Games performance, McArthur’s confidence in her list of dives grew and she introduced a new dive with a higher degree of difficulty, which helped on the way to her three-medal haul. “She thought she was better and she could see herself that she’d progressed, and the new dive she performed incredibly well,” Leeming commented.

Leeming also praised McArthur’s attitude to training and the example she sets for younger divers within her club – not to mention the work she does in keeping the dynamic duo of Heatly and Thomson humble!

Thomson himself has had a memorable 12 months, and 2018 could arguably be described as a breakthrough year as a whole for the boy from Balerno.

The 17-year-old was a multi-medallist on the junior international stage, picking up a Silver and two Bronze medals at the European Juniors in Helsinki before playing a key part in the British team's victory at the World Junior Championships just two weeks later.

Thomson came into the sport as a late starter in 2014, after catching the buzz watching the home stars at the Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games. From that moment Leeming said she knew that the former gymnast had the potential to be on the next Team Scotland.

“That was all sort of big dreams stuff but coming into this season we realised it was definitely doable. Lucas is incredible in that he knows exactly what he wants and focuses on it and gives everything to it.

“Whether it’s something simple like recovering from an injury, or learning a new dive, he goes over and above what’s required in training to ensure he’s in the best place to achieve his goals.”

Making the Commonwealth Games team was one of the main goals for Thomson and the team, and his exceptional performance that earned him a fifth place finish in the 10m platform final showed what he could be capable of. 

With these four athletes performing so well it has paved the way for younger hopefuls to take up the sport and strive for greatness. With a strong group of role models to choose from, Leeming believes Scottish diving is in a great place.

She said: “I’m delighted to be able to talk about more than two divers, compared to four years ago when we were only thinking of Grace and James and we weren’t even talking about them as medallists.

“It’s so exciting for me to watch the programme grow and the divers grow and I think within Scotland now there’s an expectation that we can make British teams and medal on those teams. It’s awesome to be part of that.”