Medal winning diver’s return to the pool was inspired by daughters

Former Olympic Diver Jane Cooke pictured at Ponds Forge Swimming Pool, Sheffield.
Picture by Simon Hulme
Former Olympic Diver Jane Cooke pictured at Ponds Forge Swimming Pool, Sheffield. Picture by Simon Hulme
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SHE competed at two Olympic Games, has a pair of Commonwealth medals and even beat television’s Gladiators, but after retiring from sport 12 years ago, Jane Cooke believed her competing days were over.

That was until watching her young daughters train with Sheffield Diving Club, she decided to try her hand in the pool once more.

And despite being out of the water for more than a decade, her comeback has caused quite the sensation.

The PE teacher from Millhouses in Sheffield won two gold medals at the World Masters Championships in Budapest last month - and is gearing up for more competing next year.

“It was a fantastic feeling,” Mrs Cooke, 41, said. “I had set myself the goal of winning but after so many years out of the pool I didn’t know it was possible.

“I never envisaged being a double world champion at 41, and to do it with my children, husband and mum and dad there watching and supporting was fantastic. Although the primary focus is fun and entertainment, if you used to be a professional athlete, the drive to win is always there.”

Mrs Cooke competes in a veterans class, and took the top spot in the 1m and 3m springboard. In the 3m competition, she scored 335.50, exceeding the second-place diver by 67.4 points. Such was the margin of victory, she could have forfeited her final dive and still won.

No stranger to competition, Mrs Cooke competed in two Olympic Games, Sydney 2000 and Athens 2004, where she finished fourth in the 3metre synchronised diving event.

Her athleticism extended beyond the pool, winning television’s Gladiators two years in a row in 1998 and 1999.

Last year she even became a semi-finallist in another television challenge show, Ninja Warrior, but it was seeing her daughters, Annabel, eight, and Chloe, ten, excel in the pool that encouraged her to take up diving once again.

She now trains three times a week in the pool, three times in the gym and even finds time to play netball for Sheffield Tigers.

Mrs Cooke said: “As I was watching them from the grandstands the question popped in my mind whether I can still dive. Hence the idea to test myself.

“I am very lucky at Sheffield Diving Club as when my two daughters train I am able to train too, but it can be a juggling act at times and I do have to prioritise.

“I teach PE at Sheffield Girls’ School and it has been great to be a role model for the girls. At times it is difficult to combine training with work and family life but elite sport taught me many life lessons, and one of these is organisation.”

She now has her sites set on competing at the European championships next September in Slovenia, and is trying to find sponsorship to cover the costs of training and competing.

“The Masters is all self-funded and I am lucky to have some support from Spencer Estate Agents and Datagraphic but it is costly,” she added.

Anyone who can help with sponsorship can contact Mrs Cooke via Twitter at @gladiatorjane.