Diving: The world is Alicia’s oyster

Alicia Blagg receives her young sportsman of the year award from Julie Brunton at the Leeds Sports Awards on Thursday night.
Alicia Blagg receives her young sportsman of the year award from Julie Brunton at the Leeds Sports Awards on Thursday night.
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Commonwealth Games diving gold could be just the catalyst Alicia Blagg needs in her pursuit of world glory. Lee Sobot reports.

IT speaks volumes about diver Alicia Blagg’s ambition that 2014 is described as “a bit of a write off.”

A write-off that included a Commonwealth synchro gold medal and her first-ever individual national title.

Yet it’s world crowns the Leeds ace is most interested in with the teenager now quite literally on the right road to success. Blagg, 18, finished seventh in the 3m synchro event at the London 2012 Olympics at just 15 years of age, alongside Rebecca Gallantree.

Three years on, the duo are targeting an even higher finish at the 2016 Rio Olympics, with Blagg hoping she’s found the ‘keys’ to further success since London 2012. The 18-year-old finally passed her driving test at the third attempt in January and has now added family taxi driver to her list of responsibilities.

Dad Jonathan, mum Helen and 15-year-old brother Jordan have all been hitching lifts from their Woodlesford home and Blagg is hoping her 2015 success behind the wheel is a sign of things to come. The Royds School pupil savoured her most notable triumph yet last year when diving to 3m synchro gold alongside Gallantree at the Glasgow Commonwealths – but for Blagg the whole year was disrupted by injury. The teenager fractured her wrist during pre-season training in Leeds in September 2013 and insists 2014 was not what it could have been. Yet at just 18 years old the Leeds ace has time on her side with Blagg well within her rights to dream of Tokyo 2020 and even the Olympic Games in 2024.

The host nation for the 2024 Olympics will not even be announced until November 2017, by which time Blagg hopes to have sealed a first world medal, with this summer’s World Championships in Kazan and next February’s World Cup in Rio – both qualifiers for the next Olympics – providing the next two opportunities. Blagg told the YEP: “I was absolutely over the moon with the Commonwealth gold medal but it’s not a world medal like I want. I want that world medal some time in the future and even an Olympic medal. You never know, and just a medal at World Cup level or World Championships would mean a lot to me. Then I would feel a lot more confident in myself and that would put me more on the map.

“Third in the world is just incredible or even second and that’s what I’d like to aim for. Then I can be proud of myself – obviously I am proud of myself anyway but I’d be even more proud if that happens and obviously an Olympic medal is just a dream. I am just concentrating on getting myself fit and strong as I know I have got years ahead of me. I am only 18 so who knows how many more Olympics could be in me.

“Fingers crossed no more injuries because last year was a bit of a write-off aside from the Commonwealths. We were hoping for even more medals but because of injuries it wasn’t possible. But winning Commonwealth gold was just incredible. We really wanted to get a medal because of last time in Delhi when we came fourth so we were just determined to get a medal no matter what colour it was. To get gold, it was the best moment of my life.”

With Blagg not 19 until October, it’s a fair bet Commonwealth glory will prove just a starter for an athlete who is one of four Leeds divers heading out to the first two legs of The World Diving Series in Beijing then Dubai on Monday. Blagg has recently recovered from a finger injury which kept her out of last month’s nationals, and is already eyeing up her second Olympics appearance at just 18 years old. The Woodlesford ace was just 15 when competing at London 2012 and recalled: “I was just so young and just so blasé about everything because it was a home Olympics and everything just went so fast. It was incredible and to think that I could possibly get another two or three out of myself...”

Gallantree, meanwhile, will be 32 by Rio and Blagg knows next year’s Olympics in South America would likely be the duo’s last competitive appearance together, should they get there.

“Becky is just getting better the older she gets,” said Blagg, part of a Team GB squad sent to Rio in January to acclimatise.

“She’s so determined and she works so flipping hard it’s ridiculous. I think she is going to try and get to Rio and I think she is going to retire after that because she’ll be 32. She’ll have done three Olympics by then and I think she wants to go to Uni and do prosthetics which she has been talking about.”

Studies and education also remain on Blagg’s mind with the teenager taking in part-time A-levels at Royds College amidst her diving escapades. Even now, the level-headed teenager is thinking about a life after diving with self-effacing Blagg hinting that even she might be ready to pack it in after Tokyo 2020 when she will be just 23. Gallantree will have definitely retired by then and Blagg says that given the vast array of emerging young diving talent, there’s no guarantee that even she is the long-term future of 3m synchro diving.

Blagg reasoned: “There’s a lot of up-and-coming junior divers that might end up pairing up together and then I will be out of the synchro team. Once Becky retires I may focus on individual but at the same time I may find a new synchro partner, you just never know.

“I’m just kind of scared about going into the real world and getting an actual job! I’ve been in the sport now for 11 years and Rio would be my 13th year. I’d probably go until my early 20s or something like that, maybe try and get to Tokyo and see how I feel after that.”

You sense there would still be life after Tokyo and if Blagg was to follow Gallantree’s lead she’d still be competing at the 2028 Olympics. But even now, an old head on young shoulders is preparing to guide an even younger crop of new exciting divers emerging at the Leeds club, headed by 15-year-old new national champion Lois Toulson. Blagg laughed: “I’m 18 now and supposed to be mature and an adult and a good example to the younger ones! Lois is incredible but she does platform thank God. I don’t do that and I’d a bit worried if I did.”

Partners not rivals, and if Toulson ever needs a lift she knows where to turn. Blagg finally passed her driving test after 17 months of tuition and three practical tests in January and sighed: “It’s been going on for a long time! I started when I was 17 in October 2013 so it’s been a while but I passed in January and it’s the best thing ever. Freedom. I’m not relying on people now but unfortunately I have to be my mum’s taxi service. There’s pros and cons...”