Rio 2016: Leeds divers' final chance to medal
Leeds Olympian Alicia Blagg says she hopes to end her partnership with Rebecca Gallantree on the podium in Rio. Lee Sobot reports.
Leeds diver Alicia Blagg is used to being ahead of the game.
Four years after making her Olympic debut whilst at high school, Blagg will become a two-time Olympian in Rio at just 19 years of age.
It should not surprise then that life after diving is already being investigated by a teenager with long term designs on being a detective.
First, though, Blagg suspects she has a chance of providing 31-year-old synchro partner Becky Gallantree with the perfect send off by medalling in South America.
Blagg and Gallantree form part of an 11-strong Team GB diving squad heading to this summer’s Rio Olympics with six of the contingent from Yorkshire and five from the City Of Leeds Diving Club.
Alongside Sheffield’s Freddie Woodward, Blagg and Gallantree will be joined by Leeds club-mates Jack Laugher, Chris Mears and 16-year-old baby of the group Lois Toulson.
Blagg was in a similar situation to Toulson approaching London 2012 when partnering Gallantree to a seventh-placed finish in the 3m synchro event. Four years on – in what will likely be the duo’s last major outing together – Blagg admits going at least four places better in South America would be the “icing on the cake” to a dream partnership that began when Blagg was just 13.
Given the whirlwind rate of progress, it should not surprise that even as a 19-year-old, Blagg is already planning for life after diving, though not before two more Olympic assignments, ahead of Rio 2016 and Tokyo 2020 – where Blagg hopes to shine as a solo diver.
But first comes one last hurrah alongside Gallantree with the diver who has long term aims of excelling in the police force now aiming to lay down the law for an emotional success in Rio. Taking 10 minutes out of her busy schedule to talk to the Big Interview at her club’s headquarters at the John Charles Centre for Sport, Blagg laughed: “You never know with Becky! It might be her last Olympics but she might be in Tokyo! But I think personally it’s our last competition together which is going to be emotional because we have been together for six years and I’m going to miss her. She’s like a sister to me really.
“In life, she has just been the best role model that you could ever, ever have. I was very lucky to be put with her when I was 13 and obviously I am 19 now so it’s six years we have been together.
“I have grown up next to her and she has really impacted me a lot on my diving and she has made me the person I am today because she is so organised. She is so dedicated, she is so focused and she’s everything that you need in a professional athlete. And it has rubbed off on me.
“I am slowly learning more and more things every time I am with her and she calms me down at competitions. We calm each other down, we work as a team really well and we just get along. It’s like Jack and Chris – they are best friends and me and Becky are best friends.
“We train together every single day, we see each other every day and it’s good to have that really special bond that we have.”
That bond has already led the duo to a Commonwealths Games gold at Glasgow 2012, plus a recent European Championships silver. Rio 2016 is next.
“Target-wise, it’s anybody’s game really in synchro,” assessed Blagg. “It’s eight pairs, straight final and it’s kind of anybody’s. We know the Chinese are going to be up there, we know the Canadians and the Australians, and it’s just if we can hold ourselves together then you don’t know what’s going to happen.
“We are just going to try and put out the best performance that we can. Obviously, we did really well at the Europeans last month but even there, there was still a few mistakes and we have just had the nationals as well where we didn’t dive as well as we know we could do. But it’s going to be our last event together so we are just going to go to this Olympics and put out the best performance that we can do and end on a high hopefully.
“If we were to get a medal that would just be the icing on the cake.”
Whatever happens in Rio, Gallantree will be set for another cake on August 19 – the day the Rio diving competition ends – which is also her 32nd birthday.
But despite being 12 years her junior, partner-in-crime Blagg already has her own long-term future well mapped out – both in and out of the swimming pool.
First up comes much needed surgery on her left wrist which the diver broke in 2013 when impact after diving from a 7m board left her with a fractured scaphoid.
“I’m only 19 and my body is kind of falling apart already,” laughed Blagg. “I’m having surgery on my wrist after the Olympics because for the past two, three years I have had really bad problems with it.
“I had another injection on Monday just gone, that’s my ninth steroid injection and so behind the scenes it’s been a bit on and off for me.
“I’ll train and then my wrist will get bad so I will have another injection and have like a month off and then I will get back into training again.
“My joint lining gets really thick, I’ve got calcium bits floating around in there so it gets to the point where it just doesn’t move and obviously you need full extension to dive and sometimes I can’t. They just stick a needle in me and then it just breaks down all the bits in it. It’s annoying, it’s not ideal but this is the last injection so hopefully we are going to be prepared for Rio.
“Then the goal is Tokyo and we’ll see what happens beyond there.”
But by then Blagg anticipates being well on the way to excelling at her next venture in life, when swapping plunging the depths of a swimming pool to delving deep into solving crime.
The former Royds School pupil will board the plane to South America next month – and several months later could return to northern America to begin her studies.
“After the Olympics and in September hopefully I will be starting university and I’ll be doing criminology,” explained Blagg.
“I’ve got a few places in mind, either stay in Leeds or maybe somewhere in America maybe – I’ve had thoughts around that. I am 19 and I can’t just dive for the rest of my life. And my mum is always saying ‘you need your education’.
“I’ve not really been doing much of that this past couple of years and I have really missed it.
“I am really excited to start going back into school and to start doing education.”
Sizing up her ideal future profession, Blagg pondered: “I want to be a detective, hence criminology.
“I just want to do something that really fascinates me and something that I love I don’t want to just go into a job straight after diving because I have to. I want to do it because I love it so that’s obviously why I want to do university and I want to do Masters degree after that.
“Education for me is important, I love it and I am really excited to try and do them alongside each other – diving and school.”
In synchro even.