Leeds diver Jack Laugher was just a ‘lad’ in London four years ago. He heads to Rio as a medal contender. Lee Sobot reports.
AS Reigning World Series champion and a former world no 1, Leeds star Jack Laugher’s Olympics prospects in the 3m springboard are well documented.
Less well known perhaps, is his 3m springboard synchro assault alongside City of Leeds Diving Club team-mate Chris Mears.
“Both of them are very equal to each other,” says Laugher. “Me and Chris have got massive prospects.”
A massive friendship too, with Laugher grateful to his 23-year-old diving partner and flat-mate for his influence on life in and out of the pool.
Laugher will be one of at least five athletes from the thriving City of Leeds Diving Club to head to Rio alongside synchro partner Mears and women’s synchro pair Becky Gallantree and Alicia Blagg.
Yona Knight-Wisdom, who will become Jamaica’s first ever Olympic male diver, completes the quintet that will definitely head to South America, whilst Lois Toulson did her chances of making the 10m team no harm with a silver in Beijing yesterday alongside Tonia Couch.
And there is no denying that Mears in particular has played a huge part in Laugher’s recent happiness and development, so much so that the duo’s sharp upward curve in the 3m synchro event perhaps could have been envisaged. Laugher is naturally seen to have a strong chance of securing a medal in the 3m springboard event after his stellar 2015.
Buoyed by golds in both the 1m springboard and 3m springboard synchro events at the Glasgow Commonwealth Games, the Harrogate-born diver took gold in three of last year’s FINA Diving World Series events. Those victories – in Canada, Dubai and Kazan – also elevated him to overall 3m World Series springboard champion and world no 1.
But Laugher and Mears were themselves ranked in pole position until the final dive at last month’s World Diving Cup in Rio, and an understanding between the duo that share an apartment together in Leeds should not really surprise.
“We’re great mates and we get on like a house on fire,” said Laugher about Mears.
“It’s great to have someone there to cheer you up. I have been quite ill recently and it was good to have someone to actually be able to get a drink for you or whatever.
“If I was on my own I might have been a little bit upset but he’s a good laugh and we have been great mates for so many years now. Me and Chris have got massive prospects and in Rio we were No 1 until the final dive. Literally, we dropped our last dive and slid down to fourth place but only by a couple of points.
“It was really, really tight but we were in the lead so that means we are definitely a force to be reckoned with, especially with the addition of this new dive. It’s the hardest dive in the world, no one else is doing it and the judges see it and they think ‘wow, that’s impressive.’ For us both to do that, if we hit it, it’s going to be really special.”
Laugher also has huge prospects of producing something special in the 3m springboard event, with the diver admitting his approach to Rio 2016 is dramatically different to the run up to his first Olympics.
Even qualifying for London 2012 was a bonus for the Ripon Grammar School pupil who gained valuable experience but failed to make the semi-finals.
Things are likely to be rather different four years on.
“Back in 2012 I was just a young 17-year-old lad,” said Laugher. “I had hardly done any international competitions and to be honest when I qualified for the Olympics it was a massive shock to me and my family. The difference to now is absolutely incomparable really.
“This year I have earned it, I have medalled many, many times in world series and world championships and world cups and especially in the Commonwealth Games. I have really shown that I am a great diver. I’ve earned my spot this time.
“I’m a professional athlete now, I live in Leeds, I can train full sessions and give it everything that I have got this time. I’m not a kid any more. I’m a man now.”
Laugher won’t turn 22 until January next year and the diver ought to be destined for big things at both Tokyo 2020 and even the 2024 Olympics, if he so desires. There is, though, no denying that a golden opportunity lies in the here and now, for all that even a solitary bronze world fulfil a childhood dream.
“If I came home with any medal that’s my dream come true,” confessed Laugher.
“That’s what I have dreamed of since I was a kid. I don’t really care what the colour is, if I got one, that’s amazing. On the day, some people dive amazingly and if I get beaten – if I put on a good performance out there and get beaten then fair play.
“If I don’t put on a good performance then I’m going to have to sit back and I’m going to have to re-evaluate and I think that’s the main thing.
“It’s about learning through this year and trying to put myself in that best position to give myself the best possible shot at trying to succeed.”
There is every chance of that happening, with Laugher admitting: “Of course, I have got a massive opportunity this time. Back at London 2012, something would have had to have gone horribly wrong for a lot of people, even if I had put in a good performance out there.
“This time I can definitely earn it but I’m not going to sit back just because of what I have succeeded with so far.
“I am still going to be working my backside off every single day in training, I am going to be trying new things and trying to get the best out of myself to prepare for that big day. This is a massive year for both of us, Chris and myself, and we are both in a very strong position to do well.
“I haven’t competed individually this year so far due to small injuries and stuff but of course Chris is going to give it his all to try and get that individual spot.
“Individually, we’ve got two spaces for Team GB and if I am fit and healthy it will probably be me plus someone else. If that’s him then brilliant, if it’s someone else then he’s there anyway for me.
“It’s really nice having him around.”