x Abu Dhabi, UAE Thursday 20 July 2017

Diving: Sport is not just about taking the plunge

The sport is entertaining and 'artistic' yet needs promotion to boost the profile. Ahmed Rizvi finds out

Kvasha Illya and Prygorov Oleksiy of Ukarine , eventual winners of the silver medal of the Men's 3m Springboard Synchro event, show how the sport is artistic and extreme as well. Satish Kumar / The National
Kvasha Illya and Prygorov Oleksiy of Ukarine , eventual winners of the silver medal of the Men's 3m Springboard Synchro event, show how the sport is artistic and extreme as well. Satish Kumar / The National

It is easy to understand why diving is considered to be one of the most spectacular of Olympics sports.

Fans could be holding their breath as the divers balance on the edge of the platform. As the athletes stretch their arms, expectations in the galleries rise. Milliseconds later, after flipping and twirling through air, they are in the water, bringing gasps from the audience and loud cheers.

"It is a combination of the extreme and artistic sports," said Georgia Fyrigou Consolo, the honorary secretary of Fina's technical diving committee. And there could be no better description.

Bringing together the skills of a gymnast and grace of a ballerina, the sport demands supreme fitness, strength and flexibility at the same time. You need sound kinaesthetic judgement and air awareness as well.

Perhaps that explains why the diving tickets were so highly priced at the 2012 London Olympics. Starting from a cheapest of £20 (Dh112) for the preliminary rounds, the best tickets for the final were priced at £450. That was more than what people paid to watch football, basketball, boxing or tennis.

Diving also ranks highly among television audiences, with Consolo revealing it was among the "top three or four" most viewed sports at the Olympics. Fina, the governing body of all aquatic sports, is now trying to take that popularity to the masses, hoping to create more participants in distant lands. And the Diving World Series is a part of that plan.

The second leg of the six-round series concluded at the Hamdan bin Mohammed bin Rashid Sports Complex yesterday and there were more fans in the stands than you would find at most Pro League football matches.

"We believe that our sport needs more promotion, so through the Diving World Series, we are trying to present the best divers to the audience," Consolo said.

"So we believe the sport is being introduced in the best possible way and … the people of Dubai will gradually embrace this sport.

"I was very happy to hear about the new diving team that has been created here. There are a lot of young kids and some senior divers are participating. I am very happy that the people of Dubai like this sport. And diving is not just competition. It's also about leisure and health. It's a beautiful sport to be involved in."

Khuwaiter Al Dhaheri, the assistant general secretary of the UAE Swimming Federation, confirmed a growing number of participants across the country because of the regular events held here.

"The participation numbers in swimming and diving are continuing to grow here, spurred on by the regular hosting of world-class events like these," he said.

The success of China in the sport should give others hope. Diving has been part of the Olympics since 1904, but no divers from China had taken part until 1984. From 1988, they have won 32 of the 44 diving gold medals on offer.

"I believe here in Dubai, we have a big chances for diving," Consolo said. "It is a big challenge because it is a new sport, but I believe there is a very good chance, through this Diving World Series, for the sport to be well promoted and the audience to know what is diving.

"It is not scuba diving. It is diving. It's artistic, it's dynamic, marvellous and exciting diving."

arizvi@thenational.ae

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