Diving: Gallantree’s eyeing up more championship glory

Rebecca Gallantree.
Rebecca Gallantree.
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LEEDS diving ace Rebecca Gallantree had a big decision to make in August 2012.

After finishing 18th at the London Olympics, the then 27-year-old was pondering retirement.

Three years later, the former Leeds student has a Commonwealth Games gold medal to her name – and in her potential last hurrah at the Rio Olympics – the best could be yet be to come.

Gallantree was born and raised in Essex but has made Yorkshire’s biggest city her home since moving north to study at the University of Leeds in 2002. The Chelmsford-born star has gone on to become a stalwart of the city’s diving scene and if Gallantree has her way the final few chapters of her sporting career will be her best. Gallantree made her senior international debut in 2004 before gracing her first Olympics at Beijing 2008 where she was 25th in the 3m springboard.

Four years later, the Leeds star was back for more in London 2012, finishing 18th in the 3m springboard but also seventh alongside 16-year-old Alicia Blagg in the 3m synchro.

Gallantree is 12 years Blagg’s senior and thought then might be a good time to call it a day.

But that temptation was thankfully resisted with Blagg and Gallantree now Commonwealth champions and third in the recent Beijing leg of the World Diving Series with the duo blossoming more than ever – 16 months shy of what could be Gallantree’s third Olympics at Rio 2016.

By then the diver will be nearing 32 years of age and admits a third Olympics outing in South America would almost certainly be her last.

Mind, in her own words, you never say never – with Gallantree now having all eyes on a seat on the plane to south America – three years on from when she initially could have retired. Gallantree told the YEP: “I contemplated retiring after London 2012 but I decided I wasn’t quite ready yet and I had a little bit more to give to diving. I think I showed that I did have a lot more to give.

“I’m still improving, my dives are getting better, my training’s going really well and I’m really excited to see what this season can bring. It was a really tricky year last year. I started out with Alicia in synchro and then Alicia’s wrist was playing up so I switched and dived some competitions with Hannah Starling. I got a bronze medal at the London World Series which was great and then Hannah and I also dived together at the World Cup where we got a fifth place which we were really pleased with.

“The Commonwealth Games was only a couple of weeks after the World Cup so we did a quick change around for me to go and partner Alicia. With very little training, it was quite a stressful build up to the Commonwealth Games to be honest.

“We came back from the World Cup and had two days at home and then went straight up to Scotland so Alicia and I didn’t have much training together right before the competition. But I think because we have got such a strong background together – we’ve been competing together for quite a long time – it all sort of fell into place on the day.

“Winning gold at the Commonwealths was the highlight of my career so far, definitely, especially as it was in front of family and friends.

“I know it wasn’t quite a home crowd because it was in Scotland but it was very close to a home crowd and it felt like a home crowd as well.

“There was such an amazing feeling there and my parents were there, my boyfriend was there and I had so many people supporting. It was great.”

Gallantree and Blagg have gone from strength to strenth since with the duo finishing a fine third against the best in the world in the first leg of the FINA Diving World Series in Beijing this March. That performance raised hopes they could medal in Rio, never mind qualify, yet qualification still has to be confirmed.

Gallantree continues to also dive as a 3m individual and explained: “The first chance for us as a country to qualify for the Olympics is this year at the World Championships in Kazan and that’s this summer.

“Then if we don’t manage to get spots there we get a second chance at the World Cup in Rio in February.

“It’s going to be a tough time – especially for synchro because there’s only eight spots for synchro at the Olympics and one of them is going to be taken up by Brazil because they get a spot automatically as the host nation.

“So really there’s only seven spots available and it’s going to be a really tough event.

“The event is really, really close and there’s a lot of teams that can be in that top eight.

“It’s going to be really tough but it’s obtainable and I’m really excited.”

As too is the city of Leeds about its continually thriving diving scene which was highly evident at February’s 2015 Leeds Sports Awards.

The City Of Leeds Diving Club walked away with six different awards with Gallantree named sportswoman of the year in light of her 2014 achievements.

The only surprise is that success was the diver’s first at the Leeds Sports Awards.

Gallantree admitted: “I’ve been nominated for awards at Leeds Sports Awards before but I don’t think I’ve ever actually won one.

“Maybe I have won as part of a team before but not on my own.

“To win this year against such tough competition was a real honour. It kind of says it all about how it’s going for me really.”

And likewise Gallantree’s pride in the awards says it all about her. Born in Chelmsford maybe but 12 years later the diver is most definitely Leeds.

Gallantree and Headingley-based PR and marketing company worker boyfriend Guy Atkinson moved into their new home together in Morley last September and the diver admitted: “This will be my 13th year in Leeds and I had 18 in Essex. But Leeds is home now!

“I can’t see any reason to leave Leeds at the moment so I’m definitely happy to stay here.”

Assessing her long term future, and asked if Rio 2016 would this time be her last Olympics, Gallantree laughed: “I think I’d agree with that!

“You never say never but at the moment my sights are just set on making it to Rio and getting some good performances out there hopefully.

“After that I quite fancy a career in prosthetics and orthotics but I would also like to give something back to sport.

“I haven’t got my plans set in stone for when I retire just yet but hopefully it will definitely be involving sport.”