LEEDS diver Jack Laugher has become accustomed to living life in the fast lane since the Rio 2016 Olympic Games. Or the bus lane even.
Such was the magnitude of the Leeds star’s success in South America, Harrogate & District Travel named one of their 36 buses after him. Laugher has even been for a spin on board and life, he admits, has dramatically changed since his gold medal success in Brazil.
Yet the biggest change has been in Laugher as a diver with a more confident and assured athlete now eyeing a first ever World Championships gold in South Korea next week en route to more Olympic joy at Tokyo 2020.
Laugher is one of the star names of the Team GB contingent competing at this month’s World Aquatic Championships in Gwangju with the 24-year-old competing in both the 3m springboard event and 3m synchro alongside Daniel Goodfellow.
It was in the latter event that Laugher savoured his finest moment yet as a diver as the Yorkshireman and fellow City Of Leeds Diving Club star Chris Mears took 3m synchro gold at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games.
Mears and Laugher were, and still are, thick as thieves – diving partners, best friends and even house mates but Mears’ decision to take a year out has left Laugher teaming up with Tom Daley’s former diving partner and Rio bronze medallist Goodfellow in pursuit of more synchro joy.
I just want to keep competing whilst I am at my best. I don’t want to start training and competing and not diving well with people seeing me going downhill really. I’d like to finish off when I feel it is necessary for me to finish.Jack Laugher
But Laugher is man on a mission on two fronts with the Yorkshireman having enjoyed his finest ever year so far as an individual diver crowned overall FINA World Series champion after individual bronzes at Sagamihara and Beijing were followed by a silver in Montreal and best of all back-to-back golds in Kazan and London.
At the peak of his powers, the diver is now targeting the two individual golds that matter most – at next week’s World Championships and next year’s Olympics where Laugher will be bidding to go one place better as an individual than he managed in Rio.
At that rate there would need to be a whole fleet of Jack Laugher buses with the diver happy to smile at a newfound almost celebrity status since Rio 2016 but thrilled that the most important change has been his potency as a diver.
“I’m the same guy, I live in the exact same place as I did when I was competing in Rio, I am training in the same pool, I have still got the same friends, everything like that,” Laugher exclusively told The Yorkshire Post.
“Not much has changed in terms of surface differences but just little things and to be honest the place where I have found it the most has been in my diving really. I feel like people look at me now in a more respected manner.
“The year after the Olympics was crazy because I did really well at the World Series, I was competing extremely well, even better than Rio and since then it has given me a confidence in my actual diving and in the way that I hold myself that nothing else could.
“It’s really just improved me as a person as well, moved me forward with my sport and also just me as a human being. It hasn’t changed much in terms of just looking at things on paper but the way that I feel about myself now is just so much more than it was three years ago.”
Reflecting on the introduction of the Jack Laugher bus, the diver laughed: “It’s pretty insane, I’m not going to lie.
“Obviously people see it and they send me photos and stuff but I am really proud to have a bus named after me.
“I know it’s silly but it’s a really nice story in terms of how I was born in Harrogate and raised in Ripon and then through to Harrogate where I started diving and then through to Leeds and I know that the 36 route obviously goes from Ripon to Harrogate to Leeds so it’s a really nice story and it makes sense as well.
“It’s not just some random bus or whatever, it’s really cool and really individual and there’s not many people that I can ever name that have a bus named after them. It’s really cool.”
Given the hectic demands of his diving career, Laugher’s moments to savour life in either birth town Harrogate, Ripon where he was schooled or his home town city of Leeds are rare.
Yet life is also gathering pace fast on a personal score with Laugher and fellow Leeds diver girlfriend Lois Toulson having now been together for three years. There are even plans to move in together – after the rather major matter of a certain sporting event next summer that is.
But first comes the quest to conquer next week’s Worlds with Laugher seeking two upgrades having taken two World bronzes at the Kazan event in 2015 in both the synchro event alongside Mears and the individual event.
“The Chinese are in fantastic form at the moment but I am really looking forward to the World Championships,” said the diver.
“The best ever performance I have had at a World Championships is a bronze medal so it would be really nice to try and improve on that.
“But by no means will it be easy. Diving is such an easy sport for it to go slightly wrong and then you are out of the running for a gold medal.
“It’s so easy for that to happen so I am just going to work hard on what I can control and keep working towards that.”
Turning his attention to the longer term – and a tilt not just at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics but possibly event Paris 2024 – Laugher pondered: “That is way in the future but I always do look forward and I am pretty sensible about my career as well.
“I will be 25 in Tokyo, I’ll be 29 in Paris so it is possible because divers perhaps start to stop competing around about maybe 30-32.
“But I just want to keep competing whilst I am at my best. I don’t want to start training and competing and not diving well with people seeing me going downhill really.
“I’d like to finish off when I feel it is necessary for me to finish.
“Rather than trying to flog a dead horse and just trying to keep going for no real reason I would rather finish on a good event really.
“I would rather finish on a good one than have bad competition after bad competition and making it really difficult for myself.
“I’d love to go on to Paris, it would be fantastic if I can keep going.
“It’s just keeping my body in check and keeping my mind in check of course as well because it is really difficult mentally competing day in, day out pretty much, training obviously.
“It is really really difficult on both the mind and body as pretty much any athlete will tell you. If I can keep all that together then I would absolutely love to go on.”