SIX Leeds divers are likely to be heading to the Rio Olympics this summer.
Matty Lee, though, was “heartbroken” upon realising he would not be one of them.
Instead, Jack Laugher, Chris Mears, Becky Gallantree, Alicia Blagg, Yona Knight-Wisdom and probably Lois Toulson will fly the fag for Leeds.
Lee, though, has now come to terms with his omission – hoping his 2016 Olympic absence will prove a blessing in disguise and the platform to win two medals at Tokyo 2020.
Backed by a stack of medals at junior level plus a European Games gold, 18-year-old Lee had high hopes that his Olympics debut would come this summer.
Yet disappointment hit the teenager at February’s Diving World Cup Rio when the youngster finished 30th in the 10m platform preliminaries and failed to bag an Olympic qualification spot.
The popular diver makes no effort to hide the sinking feeling he was left with after continually being built up as a Rio Olympics prospect, including by his hairdresser.
But just three months later Lee is again proving himself a cut above the opposition with the Leeds star excelling at this month’s European Championships in London.
Diving alongside Georgia Ward, Lee bagged a bronze medal in the team event, bettered by a silver in the mixed 10m platform synchro – a discipline that could be introduced to the Olympics for Tokyo 2020.
Lee has long hoped the new event could provide a very real shot at medal joy in four years’ time. After also finishing fifth best in Europe in the Europeans’ 10m individual event, Lee is hoping Rio disappointment will ultimately be consoled by not just one but two shots at Tokyo glory.
Taking time out of his busy schedule at Leeds’ Brazilian restaurant Cabana, Lee was happy to reflect on his initial disappointment at the Rio World Cup, admitting: “Straight away after the competition I was heartbroken.
“I couldn’t believe it happened, it was horrible, and I don’t know why it happened but it did.
“But now that I have been back at home I have kind of realised and everyone has told me that everything happens for a reason. I’ve tried to take it in and now I am definitely over it.
“If I did qualify for the Olympics in Rio and if the competition went well in Rio then I don’t think I would have learned as much as I did with not qualifying because it’s a hard thing to get over and to actually carry on going.
“But it’s motivated me so much and especially with the European Championships just gone – I wanted to smash it.
“Obviously my last major competition was Rio and it didn’t go well at all so I was just hungry for a good performance and I was lucky enough to get a really good performance in.
“I got a new PB, just dropping one dive, but knowing I got a PB with a bad dive is promising and it just felt so good to be back up there. Top five in Europe is not at bad at all.
“It went really well so I can take a lot of positives from there and I couldn’t really have asked for a better competition, especially after Rio.”
Lee certainly looked better than ever at this month’s Europeans where his double medal haul was part of another fantastic event for The City Of Leeds Diving Club.
Lee beamed: “To come top five at 18 years old in Europe is really good because we have got some amazing divers in Europe.
“The mixed synchro is still something that we can definitely get a medal in I think and Georgia has learned a back three and a half tuck which is a hard dive and not many girls do that dive. If we do that together and it works and we both nail it then I definitely think we can push for a medal, even beating the Chinese maybe.
“And individually it looks good. I’ve just got to learn some new dives and I know I can learn them and I’m not afraid to learn them because I know if I learn them it is going to improve my performance a lot.
“Before the Rio World Cup, every time I talked about diving, everyone like teachers and hairdressers and people like that, they were all saying ‘so it’s the Olympics then.’ I was saying maybe, hopefully and Rio was never my maim aim.
“Tokyo was definitely my main aim because I will be at my peak age, I will be 21 I think it is so I will be more experienced and more stronger and then I have got a chance to maybe fight for a medal there, maybe.
“How the past year went coming up to Rio, it was promising that I could possibly go and my performance in Kazan in the world semis the year before – if I would have done that there I would have been fine.
“But I know for a fact that Rio wouldn’t have been anything to do with getting a medal, it would have been all for the experience because I am obviously still young and I’ve got easier dives compared to the best.”
With Rio no longer on the agenda, Lee would be forgiven for now taking an easier time of things on the diving board – yet on the contrary the teenager sees the remainder of 2016 as huge. Still only 18 years old, both the Junior European and Junior Worlds are on the agenda and Lee is hoping to bow out of the junior sphere with a bang.
The Junior Worlds take place in Kazan in December with the Junior Europeans taking place in June in Croatia. For Lee, though, this summer will be no holiday at all.
Lee reasoned: “Because I am a junior I have still got some junior events to do and I’ve got the Junior World Championships in Kazan in December time.
“I have got that to work towards so I can’t have a long holiday because I will be straight back at it again working for that.
“I’ve also got the European Championships which are held in Croatia in June time and I still have to attend the Olympic trial event in Sheffield in June so obviously I got to work towards that. I can’t really do much there, I can’t qualify but I think it’s a good place to hopefully put some good dives down and kind of show what Rio is missing maybe.
“Also, me and a young diver from Leeds who is 15 or 16 years old – Anthony Harding – we are trying out the boys’ 3m synchro at the Junior Europeans. We are going to trial that out at the trials. I won’t be doing the 10m individual in Croatia because they have already picked two boys to do that, but I will be doing it at junior worlds.
“A lot of people are going to be in Rio, getting the ideal weather and like all the training out there, but I can use Croatia because Croatia has got an outdoor pool so I can use that as kind of like an outdoor camp as such. I am doing the team event and the men’s 3m synchro and they are quite early on in the week.
“After that, I can’t treat it like a holiday, it can be training camp and I should get a lot of benefits from that.
“Missing this year’s Olympics is a shame but it’s fine. Everything happens for a reason and I’m going to be much better than I am now come 2020.”