Rio 2016: How Jack Laugher turned adversity into Olympic triumph

Great Britain's Jack Laugher leaps onto the podium.
Great Britain's Jack Laugher leaps onto the podium.
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Four years ago Jack Laugher was a petulant teen, smashing the water with frustration and angst after a slip on the 3m springboard saw his Olympic hopes submerge in the waters of London’s Aquatic Centre.

Fast-forward to the present day, and what we saw late on Tuesday night was a man, composed and determined, delivering on the biggest stage of all.

Great Britain's Jack Laugher during the men's 3m springboard final at the Maria Lenk Aquatics Centre on the eleventh day of the Rio Olympics Games, Brazil.

Great Britain's Jack Laugher during the men's 3m springboard final at the Maria Lenk Aquatics Centre on the eleventh day of the Rio Olympics Games, Brazil.

The transformation of Laugher has been a rapid one, and he deserves all the credit for that.

His historic Olympic gold alongside Chris Mears in the 3m synchro last week, followed by his individual silver six days later, is a testament to his own refusal to be beaten and his positive mentality.

That humiliating slip in front of friends, family and the watching nation could have weakened a lesser man.

But Laugher turned it to his advantage.

Harrogates Jack Laugher, who struck gold in the 3m synchro last week, with his silver medal after the mens 3m springboard final at the Maria Lenk Aquatics Centre. (Picture: Owen Humphreys/PA)

Harrogates Jack Laugher, who struck gold in the 3m synchro last week, with his silver medal after the mens 3m springboard final at the Maria Lenk Aquatics Centre. (Picture: Owen Humphreys/PA)

Subsequent interviews with this impressive young role model for the City of Leeds Diving Club, revealed as such.

“I had one chat with a sports psychologist because they were worried about how I would take it,” he told me in an interview in late 2014.

“I didn’t need any help because a few weeks later I became a four-time world junior champion.

“The way I look at it is if I kept looking back on it and getting upset about it I’d have never moved on.

“The aim after London was to take everything that went wrong that day and ensure it never happens again.”

Laugher stayed true to his vow. Every year since 2012 has seen gradual progression, with two gold medals at the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow, a bronze at the World Cup in 2015 and a European title this Spring, all pointing towards a peak at just the right time.

If his gold alongside club-mate and housemate Mears last Wednesday in the synchro was a surprise, leaving him crying tears of joy and disbelief, his reaction in the individual final on Tuesday night was one of a man who now knows he belongs on the most coveted podium of all.

“I always knew I could medal at these Olympic Games because my performances have been on the up since 2013 and 2014,” said the 21-year-old from Harrogate, as the enormity of his accomplishment began to sink in.

“I have been rising each year but obviously doing it is a completely different story.

“There are so many nerves, pressure and weather conditions around these Olympics, it is really hard to get on the board and do it and I showed that in the semi-final in the morning, I almost didn’t make the final.”

Laugher had progressed to the final by the skin of his teeth, qualifying 12th of 12 divers and making the final by just two points.

“I came out (for the final) and did my best and it really has paid off with a fantastic performance and something to remember for the rest of my life,” said Laugher, who set himself the toughest list of dives of all the finalists in a bid to win gold.

“It was my personal worst score since London 2012 where I actually failed a dive.

“It was a bit of a shocker; 60 points less than I have scored in ages.

“I had luck on my side to get through. Knowing I was in that final I could really let loose, there was no pressure, no nerves; it was just me on the diving board and that is it.

“My coach tried to turn the semi-final performance into a positive and make me feel good about it.

“He said I would be able to apply pressure to the field which I think I did, my first dive was good and after that I had some really good dives.”

So good that only one man, China’s Cao Yuan, could deny him a second title.

A silver to add to his earlier gold is a monumental achievement for the young Yorkshireman.

To put it into context, Laugher is the first British diver to win two medals at a single Olympics and the first to win a medal in the individual 3m springboard.

It is also the best Olympic medal haul of anyone representing Yorkshire since Seb Coe won gold and silver in Los Angeles 32 years ago.

That he is in that company owes much to the coaches he has at the council-backed City of Leeds Diving Club, Ady Hinchliffe and Edwin Jongejans, and his supporting family, who thought nothing of ferrying him to and from training at all hours.

But most of all it is down to him, Jack Laugher, the young man who slipped off a diving board and climbed back up to the very top.

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