Diving: Real-life death-defying sky dive is laughing matter for Laugher

Jack Laugher.
Jack Laugher.
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Jack Laugher set a world record off the three-metre springboard in 2014, won a World Cup bronze and a poolful of medals at the Commonwealth Games, but it was one unscheduled dive that stands out for the young Olympian from Harrogate.

Flying home from China, where he had just secured a major breakthrough against the best in the world, the 18-year-old was preparing for a packed schedule in Glasgow that he hoped would cement his reputation as a rising star in British sport.

He was sitting alongside 3m synchro partner and housemate Chris Mears, Sarah Barrow and Tonia Couch.

Together, they are four athletes whose profession requires them to stay headstrong and cool under pressure. But on this particular summer’s day, that maxim was put to the test.

“We were looking at the flight times on the monitors and it said eight hours remaining – then all of a sudden it said an hour,” recalls Laugher.

“Ten minutes later the alarms started going off and we were like ‘Oh my God, what’s happening here?’

“I looked out of the window and they were pouring fuel out of the plane. We didn’t know it was fuel at the time, it was just a huge plume of white smoke.

“People in smoke masks then emerged and started heading down into the hold below which was directly in front of us.

“Tonia was balling her eyes out. Some of the stewardesses were crying. We could see huge trees out of the window and the stewardesses were saying if we could get over them there was a big lake we could land on.

“But the pilots managed to find a military base that was used for landing bi-planes. Landing a 747 is a little more difficult on a runway used for bi-planes, but they were very successful and they handled it really well.

“It was a fire in the cabin, just the bit where the crew sleep, apparently. We were never officially told.

“It was scary but we were pretty certain we were in the best hands. Me and Chris were laughing about it. If you’re going to die then you may as well laugh about it.”

That’s one way to look at it – but also the perfect way to view Laugher.

For he is a young man who has never let adversity get him down. Like the time he fell off the board in front of 17,000 people in the preliminary round of the Olympic 3m springboard competition at London 2012.

Within a month he had bounced back, winning two gold medals at the world junior championship to become the first four-time winner at that level.

Laugher has been around for so long, representing the City of Leeds with distinction for many years, that it is hard to remember he only turns 19 at the end of the month.

And in 2014, he went even further.

Either side of crash-landing in Siberia and being stranded for four days, Laugher won a bronze medal at the World Cup meet in Shanghai, and then announced himself to the British sporting public with a stunning haul of medals at the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow.

“It was a great year and exceeded all my expectations,” adds Laugher, who finished 2014 ranked second in the world.

“So many achievements to make the year fantastic. The progress made is looking really good for the new season.

“The bronze in Shanghai was the big one. The Commonwealth Games is a huge event and is televised, so getting those medals makes you feel amazing and gets your name out there more than a World Cup bronze. But the World Cup was the main target because of the standard of the field.

“I also broke a world record for a dive in the 3m springboard.”

That four-and-a-half somersault dive, ironically, cost him a hat-trick of gold medals in Glasgow.

Having already won the Commonwealth title in the 1m springboard and the 3m synchro with Mears, Laugher was on course for a third with two dives to go in his favoured 3m springboard when the slightest miscalculation in his most difficult dive left him settling for silver.

“Mistakes can happen because of the nature of the dive,” says Laugher.

“At four-and-a-half somersaults you’ve got to be concentrating all the time as the tiniest miscalculation can cost you, so someone doing an easier set of dives can beat me.

“But I’ll always try and push myself to the limits. There’s no point holding back.

“The way me and my coach see it now is if I do an easy set of dives I can finish eighth, but if I do a tough set of dives I can maybe win it. Overall the year has just been improvement after improvement and I’m just hoping to take that on now into 2015 and onto the Olympics.”

And he hopes to make that continued progression alongside his City of Leeds team-mates.

The team at the John Charles Aquatics Centre had six divers representing England in Glasgow, and they all won medals.

As well as Laugher and Mears, Alicia Blagg and Rebecca Gallantree won gold in the 3m synchro, James Denny won a silver alongside Tom Daley in the 10m synchro and Hannah Starling added a bronze in the 3m individual.