Hard work the only way to make a splash at Olympics

Diver Jack Laugher
Diver Jack Laugher
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In seven months time Jack Laugher hopes to fulfill his destiny when he takes to the Olympic diving board. Nick Westby met him.

The day starts at 6am for Jack Laugher.

Quick wash, breakfast and a look at Twitter and within minutes he’s on the street, bound for the bus stop.

After the bus, it’s the train and eventually he’s in Leeds.

But even then his journey is not done. Back on the streets he heads, the John Charles Aquatic Centre his final destination.

Finally, two hours after leaving his front door, the 16-year-old Olympic diving hopeful has arrived at training.

Usain Bolt may be able to step out onto the sun-scorched fields of Jamaica from his front door and Tom Daley might be ferried to and from the pool every day, but at the sharp end of Olympic training, nothing ever comes easy.

Even after a few hours leaping, plunging and perfecting his repertoire for London 2012, Laugher is back on public transport bound for his next destination, the more common time-consumer of a teenager’s day – school.

“It is hard, I do struggle with it,” admits the affable Laugher.

“I’ve had to cut down my A-levels and spread them out over three years. I’m doing two AS-levels this year, which means I have half days at school.

“I have mornings at school Monday to Thursday and then train in the afternoon, and then Friday I train in the morning and go to school in the afternoon.

“For school I’m up at about 7am, and then Friday for training it’s 6am.

“Bus and then train is a nightmare. I can’t wait until I’m 17 and I can start to drive. I turn 17 next month and I’ll be straight in there learning to drive.

“I’ve got a bit of money in the bank to spend on a car, it’s going to be petrol more than anything that will be the cost, but hopefully I can get a sponsor.

“That will help me greatly, it will increase my chances in London if my workload and training load beforehand is a little easier to manage.”

As well as squeezing in as many hours as he can for training, Laugher also has to fit in time for studying.

He is currently taking AS Level chemistry and PE at Ripon Grammar School, and is often seen by his Great Britain team-mates doing his homework on long-haul flights to World Cup meets in Mexico, Dubai and China.

Despite it being a squeeze, academic work seems to come as naturally to him as the nerve to fling himself off a three-metre springboard and triple-somersault his way down to the pool.

He received three A-grades and six Bs in his GCSEs earlier this summer, a remarkable achievement when considering he was juggling revision with training for his first senior world championship.

And even when he got out to Shanghai to compete against the best in the world, he showed the hectic workload had not fazed him, as the former double world junior champion finished eighth among the big boys in the 10m platform discipline to book a spot at the Olympics.

When he puts his mind to something, this young man invariably excels.

He is still learning though, adding three-and-a-half and four-and-a-half somersaults to his 3m springboard repertoire to give him a greater chance of medalling at London 2012.

“The Olympics is starting to creep up on me,” he says.

“Being seven months away it is getting gradually closer, I just have to take each day as it comes and perform to the best of my ability.

“I’ve been trying as hard as I can to improve, polish my skills, make my routines as close to perfection as I can.

“I’ll be doing all five of the World Cup events in the Spring. It’s going to be a pretty big buzz diving against the top eight in the world on a regular basis.

“I’ve earned my spot on merit to compete against the best in the world, regular international medallists, so it’ll be great to measure myself against the likes of those.”

And he was surprised to nominated for tonight’s BBC Young Sports Personality of the Year Award.

“I was absolutely amazed to get shortlisted,” said the Ripon Grammar School pupil, of an award that has been won in the past by Wayne Rooney and Andy Murray.

“I’ve always watched the show since I was a young kid, I never thought I’d get on it.

“It feels so good to be recognised alongside such athletes as Laura Robson and Tom Daley.

“I got told about a day before the announcement, so I had to keep my excitement under wraps, I couldn’t tweet it or anything. That wasn’t easy!

“It came completely out of the blue.”

Laugher visited the Olympic Park in the summer and will get his first taste of the inside of the Aquatics Centre in February, when the best divers in the world gather for the London test event.

The environment of success that has been forged at the City of Leeds Diving Club is spurring him and his team-mates on.

Fourteen-year-old Alicia Blagg, Sarah Barrow, Jenny Cowan, Hannah Starling and Rebecca Gallantree all harbour hopes of making a splash in London.

“Having so many high-class, experienced, motivated divers around me makes me motivated to train harder, get better,” says Laugher.

“We’ve got four or five people here capable of going to the Olympics, so having that around me is great.”

Outside of the bubble of an Olympic training environment, Laugher is like any other teenager.

An iPod is forever attached to his ear, a smartphone held in front of his face to interact with friends on social networking sites, and the escape of a good old shoot-em up on the PlayStation is never far from his reach.

Where he differs, is that the many vices a teenager can be pulled towards are something he must resist more defiantly than most.

He says: “I get Friday night off and Sunday off, which means I can do whatever I want, which for me is absolutely amazing.

“But I’ve still got to be good, because the negative stuff you can get caught up in is not going to make me perform well.

“Being so close to the Olympic Games I can’t really afford to.

“Getting away from school and diving, though, is important.”

The spotlight is gradually shining brighter on Laugher but he appears young enough and happy enough to let the growing hullabaloo wash over him.

Daley, his friend, team-mate and the youngest Olympian in Beijing, has had his troubles with publicity and the knock-on effect that had on him in the school yard.

Laugher empathises.

“I’ve had little things,” he says of the isolated pockets of negative reaction to his new-found fame.

“It’s never really affected me because I’m focused on what I’m doing, I don’t care what people say.

“What I’m doing, the hard training the school work, is right for me. Most people are proud of me.”

So they should be. In seven months time they will be even prouder as he stands on the three-metre springboard ready to tumble off towards his destiny.

Jack’s road to BBC award shortlist

Jack Laugher was shortlisted after being nominated for the BBC Young Sports Personality of the Year award at the glitzy ceremony in Manchester tonight.

The 16-year-old diver from Harrogate finished eighth in the 3m springboard event at the World Championships in Shanghai.

It was his first major international meet and it came just a year after he had graduated to the senior ranks with two gold medals to his name at the junior world championships.

This year’s BBC Sports Personality of the Year from Manchester has not been without controversy after no females were nominated for the adult award.