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Diving into diving

BY IAN MURPHY | MARCH 09, 2015 5:00 AM

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DI swimming and diving beat writer Ian Murphy examines the complicated sport of diving by explaining its essential components and scoring system. The Zones Diving Qualifier will be held in the Campus Recreation and Wellness Center natatorium today through Wednesday.

To swimming fans, diving may seem like an unwelcome intrusion to the sanctity of racing, an unnecessary break in the more exciting, faster-paced adrenaline rush taking place 15 feet away.

A bad dive looks like chaos, and a good dive doesn’t look much different.

It is hard to appreciate the amount of madness someone needs to fall through the air, from as high as 33 feet before ultimately crashing into a 17-foott deep body of water at a speed of more than 30 mph, for the entertainment of others.

Diving, which appears overwhelming and intimidating to a swimming fan, is in fact a simple sport. It boils down to two pieces: categories and positions. Judges use those two pieces to give a score.

There are three events in diving: the 1-meter springboard, the 3-meter springboard, and the towers. The towers — large, concrete slabs — have five heights.

In each event, athletes perform all five categories of dives, and those dives can be performed in any of the four positions.

“It’s like learning to play the piano,” head diving coach Todd Waikel said. “You don’t sit down and start playing Mozart.”

To start playing the piano, one must learn notes. Like notes are to songs, categories are to diving.

Those categories include front, back, inward, reverse, and twister. A diver must complete one of all five, and there is no order for them to be completed in.

Diving is comparable with the individual medley in swimming. When swimming a medley, an athlete performs four strokes. In diving, an athlete must dive in all categories. Mastery of all is not required, but knowledge of each group is.

The front category is best described as a front flip kids at the local pool might do off the diving board. A diver strides forward, hurdles, and completes a variation of a front flip. In diving, it is known as a somersault.

The same is true for the back group. A diver, much like an ambitious youngster making a lifeguard nervous, will stand on her or his toes at the edge of the board, facing the deck of the pool, and propel themselves over their own heads — a back flip.

For the inward, divers will start similar to the back group, facing the deck, and jumping, but instead of rotating away from the board, athletes will throw themselves into a forward rotation, so the head will be rotating toward the board.

What the inward is to the back, the reverse, commonly known as a gainer, is to the front group. The athlete will start with a similar hurdle to a front dive but will rotate backwards.

A twister is any dive that involves a spinning rotation and can be performed with a variety of groups.

On the towers, also called the platforms, there is an additional arm-stand category. Women have to complete four categories in the five dives they complete from the tower, while men have to complete five of six during their six dives.

The easiest category, Waikel said, is a matter of personal preference.

“Some people do backs and gainers easier, some people do fronts and inwards easier,” he said, much like some swimmers take to certain strokes easier.

After learning the notes, on piano, the next step is chords. In diving, those chords are the positions.

There are four positions in diving. When diving from a tuck position, a diver’s legs are bent at the knee and brought close to the chest. A pike position consists of divers holding their legs straight and grabbed them behind the knee.

Divers do not hold their legs in the other two positions. In straight, both arms and legs are held straight down, creating a single line with their bodies.  The free position, used for twisters, holds the legs straight as well, but divers use their arms to twist.

As with categories, a diver’s favorite position is a matter of personal preference, but there is a hierarchy of difficulty in positions.

“Typically, pike is harder than tuck,” Waikel said. “[And] not many people do straight.”

For swimming fans, putting the components together to see the big picture can be a daunting task. It can be just as daunting for the divers.

Some divers struggle to learn a new position. For freshman Matt Mauser, the pike position was the toughest part of his learning experience.

“Back in high school and the club scene, I would always do every dive with tuck,” Mauser said. “That was the hardest part, was learning to do everything pike, which is always more difficult.”

For others, such as sophomore Brandis Heffner, applying the little corrections to the big picture can be the toughest part of the continuing diving education.

“It’s so easy to just say, ‘Oh, I’ll fix that tomorrow,’ ” Heffner said. “I don’t really want to do it now, but it’s only going to help to do it as soon as possible.”

Heffner’s favorite dive is a back 2½ somersault from the pike position off the 3-meter board, which carries a degree of difficulty of 3.0, meaning with three sevens, he would score 63 points.

Each diver might have a specialty, but the most difficult dive for Waikel to teach his athletes?

“Probably the hardest dive to teach is an arm-stand twister on tower,” Waikel said.

That dive involves rigorous lead ups, the steppingstones to the full dive, and intense core strength to hold the stand on top of the platform.

But when done well, divers are rewarded greatly for their efforts. The degree of difficulty for a dive from an arm-stand with 3½ somersaults and a twist is 3.9.

“It’s kind of like gymnastics; the harder the trick, the more [degree of difficulty] you get,” Waikel said.

Judges give their individual scores in half-point increments up to 10, with heavy weight on a diver’s entry into the water.

A diver who nails his entry rips it, Waikel said. A “ripped” entry sounds like a piece of paper being torn, which signifies a clean, crisp entry into the water.

In addition to entry, judges watch the approach, take off, elevation, and execution of the dive.

Typically, Waikel said, three judges are present. When there are five or seven judges at bigger competitions, the highest and lowest scores are dropped to take the three middle scores. The remaining scores are added up and multiplied by the degree of difficulty, giving the divers their scores.

If categories and groups are chords and notes, then putting a dive together is a song, and as in a piano recital, the goal is performance.

Diving is an aesthetic sport, much like music is an aesthetic experience. Putting together a complete dive does not happen without learning chords and notes.

The problem is the people watching the other pool may never fully understand why divers throw themselves off a concrete cliff. Like hearing a beginner play the piano, people hear notes first, and the song comes later.

But if they can see through the notes of a perfectly ripped 3½ somersault — a well-written verse to an unforgettable song — they can appreciate it.


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