Olympics heartache serves to strengthen Laugher

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The enduring image of Jack Laugher in 2012 will be of the Yorkshire teenager punching the water in anger after he crashed sideways into the pool at London’s Aquatics Centre, his Olympic hopes going the way of the displaced water.

It is an image, and a memory, that could haunt Laugher from now until the Rio Games in four years, when he finally gets the chance to atone.

But there is so much more to this admirable young man than that ‘knee buckle’ in his final dive in the 3m springboard preliminary round that ruined his Olympic dream.

In the run-up to London 2012 he effectively self-educated, teaching himself ahead of his AS Levels as he travelled the world competing. He passed his driving test, cutting a two-hour commute to training at Leeds’s John Charles Aquatics Centre, to 30 minutes.

And, most significantly, he won two junior world titles earlier this month to demonstrate that the nightmare of London was a one-off, and something he will not allow to haunt him for the rest of his career.

Laugher, 17, won the 3m springboard junior title for the second time and took his overall title haul in the competition to four when he teamed up with Tom Daley to claim gold in the 3m synchro.

That he was disappointed to ‘only’ win a silver in defence of his 1m crown in Adelaide serves to illustrate just how far he has come since his London nadir.

“Getting the medals was amazing but proving to myself I could still compete, and even proving to other people that I wasn’t a washout, that I am still world class, was the main thing,” said Harrogate’s Laugher.

“Having that diabolical heartache was awful, but it made me want it in Adelaide so much more than I normally would.

“What happened in London was awful. Training for an entire year, everything building up to that and then it all just falling to pieces in front of you. It’s the worst thing in the world.”

The youngest of the 30 divers in the Olympic competition, Laugher finished 27th, failing to qualify for the semi-final when the eight-man final had been his realistic target.

Though his subsequent performance in Adelaide would suggest he has bounced back quickly, Laugher will not allow himself to forget it completely as he seeks to understand how and why it happened, and use that knowledge to drive him in the future.

“The Olympics meant a huge amount to me and it was horrible to see it go awry,” reflected Laugher, who is back in training now with his fellow City of Leeds diving club members.

“I’ve put it behind me but I definitely think I can use it to my advantage. Even though it was a huge setback I’m going to have to use it as a strength to spur me on to do better and better.

“I’ve analysed it with my coach and my psychologist. We’re trying to work out why it happened and we think we’ve got an understanding of how it’s happened. We’re definitely using it to move on and ensure it never happens again. It might give me the experience.

“Nerves played a part. I’m not 100 per cent certain what it was. I didn’t feel myself at all, I was completely zoned out and didn’t do anything how I normally would. I wasn’t me at all.

“We’re still trying to work it out. One day we’ll work it out, and I will never make that mistake again.

“On my last dive, I really did hurt myself quite badly. My knee buckled to the extent that the doctor said she was surprised that my kneecap didn’t pop out. My quads were torn. All in all, it was a tough few days.

“Other people have messed up and you’ve got to get on with it. I’m not going to sit there and let it get to me. I’ve got to think positive, even though it was a bad experience, it was still an experience.”

That he has moved on so quickly is encouraging. Prior to the Olympics he was tipped as a future world champion by American diving legend Greg Louganis, and his performances in Australia will only have served to enhance that belief.

As will his starring role alongside Daley, the Olympic bronze medallist and headline act of the British diving squad. The two teenagers would be a perfect fit together in the synchro, given their close friendship and age.

But their brief and surprisingly successful partnership in Adelaide was only experimental, with Laugher a 3m springboard specialist and Daley a master of the 10m platform.

There may be a future for the duo but one would have to make a big sacrifice.

“I’d definitely be up for it if Tom’s up for it,” said Laugher. “It’d be a lot of fun. Tom does 10m and he’s nowhere near as good at 3m as he is on the 10m, so he’d have to do a lot of work, and I wouldn’t want to take him away from 10m.

“It was a lot of fun and would be nice if it could happen.

“There’s been talk of me going up to 10m if Pete Waterfield decides to quit, and doing 10m with Tom. I’m not sure about that – it’s really high, and scary.

“We’ll see what happens over the next couple of years. It’s hard to split between 10m and 3m and be consistent at the top. I’d much rather be competing at the top on one board, like the 3m and 3m synchro, rather than being average on both.”

Laugher was not the only success story for City of Leeds in Adelaide. Hannah Starling, 17, and Alicia Blagg, 16, won a silver medal in their first major international meet as a 3m synchro pairing, while Leeds’s Starling also won bronze in the individual event. For Wakefield’s Blagg, it points to an exciting future after a three-year-stint with Rebecca Gallantree culminated in a seventh-place finish at the Olympics.

“We dive with the same coach, we train at the same times, we get on so well, we’re like sisters because we’re so alike,” said Blagg, who faces a challenge over the next year juggling her diving commitments with her GCSEs.

“The summer was the best experience of my life and I’m gutted at how fast it went.”

After supplying half the British team at London 2012, City of Leeds did so again at the junior worlds. Matty Lee, 14, of Leeds, is a junior European champion, while Lydia Rosenthal, 13, of Leeds and Yona Knight-Wisden – who trains with the squad but represents Jamaica – all enhanced their reputation and ensured the legacy of the London Olympics is already bearing fruit in Leeds.