Empty seats came as a relief to Yorkshire's Jack Laugher at Tokyo Olympics

The return of fans to sporting events in recent weeks has been almost universally heralded as a positive development.

Saturday, 21st August 2021, 6:00 am
WELCOME SIGHT: Yorkshire diving star Jack Laugher admitted that the sight of empty seats at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics eased the pressure on him as he returned home with a bronze medal. Picture: Getty Images.

Both spectators and athletes alike have been near-enough unanimous in welcoming the return of something resembling normality in, on and around stadia, courts, arenas, pitches, tracks, courses and pools across the country.

But, for Yorkshire diving star Jack Laugher, the absence of on-lookers at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games was a godsend.

The 26-year-old City of Leeds diver spoke candidly while out in Japan about his struggles with anxiety during the last two years, a period which he described as the “worst of my life”.

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WELCOME SIGHT: Yorkshire diving star Jack Laugher admitted that the sight of empty seats at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics eased the pressure on him as he returned home with a bronze medal. Picture: Getty Images.

Riddled with self-doubt and terrified by the prospect of failure, the Rio 2016 gold-medalist has admitted that he doesn’t know how he would have coped with having to compete in front of spectators, revealing that he felt “overjoyed” when it was confirmed that this summer’s Games would be held behind closed doors.

And Laugher even went as far as to say that he believes that diving in front of empty seats actually enabled him to win bronze in the 3m springboard.

“I was actually overjoyed when I found out that the Olympic Games were going to take place without a crowd,” he told The Yorkshire Post.

“I think that the capacity of the [Tokyo] Aquatics Centre is about 12,000.

WELCOME SIGHT: Yorkshire diving star Jack Laugher admitted that the sight of empty seats at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics eased the pressure on him as he returned home with a bronze medal. Picture: Getty Images.

“If that was full while I had a massive amount of anxiety about potentially failing again, if I had failed in front of all those people, plus to millions watching at home, I do not know what I would have done.

“I had massive, massive anxiety and just an overwhelming feeling of fear around having to compete with that much pressure on me having made the mistakes I’ve made over the past two years and I was really scared.

“But, when the crowd wasn’t there it didn’t feel like an Olympic Games, which I think worked in my favour massively.

“The only crowd we had were the supporters in Team GB, which was 11 athletes, so it wasn’t as intense as a usual Olympics, which was actually quite refreshing. Some people love the crowd, they love the environment, but I shy away from it a little bit to be honest and that’s just how I am, so it all just seemed to click into place and go fantastically.

WELCOME SIGHT: Yorkshire diving star Jack Laugher admitted that the sight of empty seats at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics eased the pressure on him as he returned home with a bronze medal. Picture: Getty Images.

“It’s really, really hard knowing that millions of people are potentially watching, but you just have to forget about it and focus on what you’re doing. I can’t control what anyone else is doing, all I can control is me and I did feel good, confident and in control, so I think things worked in my favour and worked out perfectly for me to get a bronze medal.”

Another big factor behind Laugher’s success out in Tokyo was a decision taken during the build-up to the Olympics to abandon his pursuit of perfection.

After winning gold and silver in Rio under the guidance of Ady Hinchcliffe, the Harrogate-born former Ripon Grammar School pupil felt as if tweaks in certain specific areas would mean that he would evolve as a diver and enable him to continue to dominate on the world stage.

But when Hinchcliffe left his role with Team GB to go and coach Australia, Laugher admits that he was persuaded to try and alter too much in search of more textbook technique.

“When you win the Olympic Games, especially at the age of 21, all you think is ‘what now?’,” he added. “Me and my coach at the time had ideas about what we were going to do in the future, maybe trying some new dives, but he left to go and work in Australia and I started working with a new coach.

"He’s done fantastically, but because he hadn’t worked with me for all that time we were then starting to listen to what other people had to say and starting to change some techniques that I’d done all my life, which weren’t wrong, they just weren’t to the book.

“Everyone has got their own way of doing things and if it works, it works. But I was trying to be changed by so many people from so many different directions that we were trying to be as perfect as possible. When I let go of that and became myself again and did my own techniques and did my own things is when I actually started to flourish again.

“It was really hard and I was still making mistakes if I had lapses of concentration, but after we let go and just let me be me and let me do my own thing it all just seemed to click.”

And it wasn’t just Laugher’s technique that benefited from him returning to his tried-and-trusted formula up on the high board. Feeling more comfortable with what he was asking his body to do ultimately helped him win the battle that was raging inside his own head.

“It worked five years ago and the judges would give me nines and 10s,” he said. “We tried to change it and it just messed with my head, my technique, it messed with everything. Trying to be perfect made me a worse diver, which is such a strange concept.

“But, when I let go of that I felt like I was a new person, almost overnight.”

The rest, as they say, is history and Jack Laugher is now well-and-truly back in contention.