By Charlie Snyder // usolympicteam.com // August 11, 2003
Before Laura Wilkinson won the 2000 Olympic gold medal in platform diving, she was a kid learning the basics. One week into her diving career Wilkinson got the call. Her coach was out of town and an assistant, handling the senior team, told her to take a flying leap off the 10-meter.
“She told me that I should just go up to the 10-meter and just jump off and to see what that was like … man, that first step’s a doozy, I tell you what,” said Wilkinson. “When you look up there, you’re like, ‘Oh, it’s not so bad,’ and then you get up there and look down … it’s a whole ‘nother view. So that was a little scary.
“I’m not a big fan still of going off feet first; I’d rather land on my head. I feel like I have more control.”
What it feels like to dive off the 10-meter platform
When someone first learns to go off the 10-meter, coaches typically start divers with basic, required dives, something like a front dive or a one-and-a-half somersault. Wilkinson’s coach, Kenny Armstrong, must have seen a special spark inside his young page.
“The first dive I ever learned off 10-meter … Kenny put me up there doing an inward, two-and-a-half somersault tuck … that was really interesting. I had no idea what I was doing, but if Kenny says to go do it. Okay, I’ll go do it. Went up there and did it, I had no clue. I think I was scared, but he said go and I went. I wasn’t going to hesitate, after that I learned some of the more basic dives.”
So what does it feel like to go off the platform?
“When you’re doing multiple flipping, you’re just thinking so much about picking up your spots, like where you are suppose to come out, you see the water several times, you’re thinking about so many actions, you don’t think about the feeling. On a simpler dive, like a reverse five pike, you’re just up in the air, hanging, you’re stretched out for 10 meters just waiting for the water. Those are fun.
A native of Puerto Rico, Mark Ruiz moved to the United States at the age of 12 in order to pursue his diving career. In 1999, Ruiz became the first diver since Greg Louganis in 1988 to capture the 10-meter platform, 3-meter springboard and the non-Olympic event of 1-meter springboard at Spring Nationals. Although Ruiz suffers from a fear of heights, he has not let his fear prevent him from becoming a world-class diver.
“I gradually worked my way up,” Ruiz said. “I was on 7-meter and 5-meter when I was 11. And I dove 7 and 5 all the way until I was 14. I was almost 15 when I started diving 10-meter. And when it was time for me to start [on the 10-meter] I was scared to death. I never thought in my wildest dreams that I would dive 10-meter. I was could always look up from the 7-meter to the 10-meter and say to myself, ‘Oh my god, I don’t even know how those guys could jump off the 10-meter.’ But, once the coach tells you to do something, you just have to trust him and hope that nothing bad will come out of it.
“I tried it for the first time and it went great right from the start, which is very unusual. It was one of things where you pick something up; you don’t even realize you’re even doing it. For me, I enjoy diving off the platform much more than I do the springboard. I know that sounds crazy even though I’m still afraid of heights. But I’ve just gotten accustomed to the height. I’ve gotten accustomed to doing my dives over and over.
“Even now, when I dive sometimes, there are times that when I just turn around and go right away. I don’t even think or analyze the dive because if you analyze it too much, then your start working yourself up. So, I just stood up there and went right away. It was very difficult to do that; very difficult to overcome it. But once you do it, it’s the greatest feeling because you know that you’ve overcome something that you’ve thought you never could do. So it was a great feeling once I did it.”
A seven-time USA Diving national team member and 2000 Olympic competitor in the 10-meter, Sara Hildebrand won the platform event at the 2003 Speedo American Cup. She was named the 2003 Speedo National Diving Championships Women’s All-Around Award recipient.
“My very first time up there was 13, almost 14. My coach wouldn’t let me up there. I walked in the pool for the first time and saw it and I was like, ‘What is that up there and how are those girls going off it?’ He told me he wouldn’t let me up there, so the first time I actually got up there, I was excited. I wanted to be up there. I wanted to se what it was like to go off this high thing into the water. He made me jump first. He wouldn’t let me do a dive or anything, so jumping was … jumping; it was okay. The first dive was kind of a rush. You jump and you don’t know how fast to throw or not to throw at all, so you’re just kind of falling through the air without knowing what’s going to happen. But I made it up and down and I was like, ‘Can I do that again?’”
A former gymnast, Kimiko Soldati is a 2001 and 2002 U.S. Diving Athlete of the Year. She was second in platform at the 2002 FINA World Cup and at the 2002 FINA/USA Grand Prix Diving meet, Soldati earned one silver and two bronze medals. She’s working on her PhD in clinical psychology.
“The first time I had ever been up on the platform – I was a gymnast at the time – and I happened to be at a gymnastics meet in Colorado where the only towers are down at the Air Force Academy,” she said. “And that was when my gymnastics coach took us up there. I was afraid to go to the end of the tower and peek over, so I crawled on my belly (to the end). The pool was closed so we didn’t actually get to jump off.
“When I was a little, little kid I went to violin camp. They told us that we weren’t allowed to go off the high board. But I wanted to go off the 3-meter so the first time I jumped off the 3-meter was at violin camp and I got in trouble.
“I picked it up pretty quick. It didn’t scare me. I liked it and thought it was a lot of fun. I pretty much learned a full list up there in a couple weeks. But I got injured. I don’t know if I belonged doing some of the things I was doing up there that quickly and I don’t think I really understood how to dive off that high. So I couldn’t dive 10-meter for another 3 or 4 years after that.
“I’m not afraid of heights but I don’t trust myself around them for some reason. When I go skiing, when I would sit in the ski lifts looking down, I would get this feeling that I wanted to jump. So, it’s not that I’m scared, I just don’t trust myself that I won’t jump.”
This article originally appeared on usolympicteam.com.
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