After almost losing his life in 2009, diver Chris Mears is hoping to partner flat-mate Jack Laugher to Olympic gold. Lee Sobot reports.
ONLY one thing mattered for diver Chris Mears in 2009. Living.
After suffering a ruptured spleen, the 15-year-old was given a five per cent chance of survival. Incredibly, three years later, the diver was celebrating fifth and ninth-placed finishes at the London 2012 Games.
He’s certainly a man capable of defying the odds and the statistics are now in Mears’ favour with the diver at the peak of his powers ahead of the Rio 2016 Olympics. Mears relocated from the Southampton Diving Academy to the City Of Leeds Diving Club shortly after the London Games and has already secured his ticket to South America having qualified for his 3m synchro spot alongside Jack Laugher at Kazan last summer.
The 23-year-old also hopes to be selected alongside Laugher in the individual event, yet the reality is that any sort of diving achievement is quite remarkable given the events of 2009.
It was while training in Sydney at the Youth Olympic Festival that Mears ruptured his spleen – losing five pints of blood – with doctors believing the Reading-born athlete had very slim chances of living, never mind diving again.
A seven-hour seizure then led to Mears being in a three-day coma. It’s understandable the diver chooses to live life in the short term – but seven years after his 2009 ordeal life is going very nicely indeed.
“I should have lost my life really in 2009,” said Mears, in an exclusive interview with the YEP.
“But someone was looking out for me and I fought through it.
“I have been on a big journey and when I actually got to the Olympic Games, it was like a reward.
“I look back on it and thing ‘yes, hard work does pay off, and good things do happen’. Good things are at the end of the tunnel.
“It’s a great feeling to know that I am going back to my second Olympics and we actually did the qualification on the first attempt in Kazan whereas other guys had to get their spot and qualify in Rio when we were out there a couple of months ago for the World Cup.
“It was so good to have that knowledge of us going to the Games.
“And I would love to get another individual dive at he games because I did really well at London and I would love to replicate that this year.
“I was ninth which was really good and it was a great feeling diving in front of a home crowd, it gave me a really good buzz.
“I have struggled with injuries and stuff over the last couple of years and I just haven’t quite really shone individually, not like in the synchro which has been really strong. But I am in really good shape now. I am at the peak of my powers.”
Those powers were again highlighted when Mears and Laugher scooped silver at this month’s World Diving Series leg in Kazan.
The European Championships are next and Mears will be well aware of the significance of Friday, June 17 – the day the Rio Olympics Team GB diving team will be announced. It is then when Mears will discover if he has one tilt at a medal or two.
Either way, around half of the squad are likely be to be from the City Of Leeds Diving Club where Ady Hinchliffe is head coach, and for former Southampton Diving Academy star Mears, the relocation to Yorkshire has been the catalyst not just for success but indeed saving his sporting career.
“Leeds gave me my passion for diving back again,” admitted Mears.
“At the time, I had Olympic blues after the Games in 2012 and I hit a bit of a rough patch. That happens, people go through it, and my way of dealing with that was to move to Leeds and to get a fresh environment and to train up here with Ady and start doing synchro with Jack and really knuckle down.
“I really, really liked my coach down in Southampton called Lindsey Fraser – she was a tremendous coach and it was really hard to leave her.
“But it was something that I had to do with my life, there was no one else down there really any more – I was the only one training there at the standard that I am and so it was very difficult to be professional.
“So as a professional athlete that is the first step that I took.
“I moved out of home, I stopped seeing my family which is hard for anyone, whatever they are doing.”
Yet something of a diving bromance has helped make that move smooth sailing. Mears now shares a flat in Morley with diving partner and best friend Laugher who the part-time male model now hopes to help to a 3m synchro gold in South America.
“Me and Jack are best buddies,” said Mears.
“We train and live together and it’s a great little system we have got going on. For most people it would mean disaster but we seem to click!
“Jack is an incredible diver and he inspires me day in, day out with some of the stuff that he does. He is a magician and I am so overwhelmed to do synchro with him because he is such a great diver.
“And I’d say his chances of a medal individually, as with ours in the synchro, are high.
“In the synchro, we have the hardest listed dive in the world so technically if all of the divers let’s say were to ace their dives then we would come out on top because we do have the hardest difficulty dives. This new dive, people are calling it a risk or whatever but actually so far it’s been really consistent so I think that’s really promising.
“As long as all the rest of our dives go to plan then the new dive is pretty much going to settle it and I think it’s going to be fine.
“I think it’s scared a couple of synchro pairs just because they see you doing that kind of dive. We have shown that if you train it right, which we have, then when it comes to competition we can be consistent on it which is really exciting.”
Equally exciting, in the long term, is Mears’ rapid rise as a DJ and music producer –something he developed whilst recovering from dicing with death in 2009. But after careful consideration it is a Olympic gold and not a no 1 album that would mean most.
Asked which he would prefer, Mears laughed: “You cannot ask me that!
“But for me, when I was a little kid and when I started diving, an Olympic medal has always been something that I have witnessed people do and I have seen people that have inspired me throughout my life.
“I think just for someone to even go to the Olympics – there’s not a very high percentage of people that have been to an Olympic Games.
“For those people, not only to go to the Olympic Games but to perform and to get an Olympic medal, that is something that is just life changing so I think that’s the answer.
“There is so much hard work and determination that goes into it that some people don’t realise – all those hard days where you can’t be bothered to get out of bed and all that.
“That’s what it’s all about. Getting a no 1 hit you might just get lucky one day!”