Rio 2016: Jack Laugher ready to rise up and make London disappointment a distant memory

Great Britain's Jack Laugher
Great Britain's Jack Laugher
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Reflections on his Olympic flop four years ago have become common place in Jack Laugher’s crusade to the very top of the diving world.

Ill-prepared and inexperienced, the former junior world champion slipped whilst attempting his final qualification dive in London and saw his hopes dashed in an instant.

The then-17-year-old left the London Aquatics Centre in tears having been riddled with nerves as he trailed home in 27th place.

But that disappointment has been carried throughout the last Olympiad in recovering a career once tipped so highly by four-time Olympic gold medallist Greg Louganis.

Laugher heads into the 3m springboard competition in Rio still labelled as one of the sport’s rising stars and will be amongst the favourites to land gold at the outdoor Maria Lenk Aquatics Centre. And it is the dramatic and humiliating memories of London that will stick with the 21-year-old throughout his pursuit as he insists the worst possible experience at his home Games actually turned out the best for his career.

“I have learned a tonne from it,” said Laugher.

Chris Mears and Jack Laugher. Photo: Nigel French/PA Wire.

Chris Mears and Jack Laugher. Photo: Nigel French/PA Wire.

“I have the memories still fresh in my head, good and bad, it’s always weird doing your first Olympics, especially at a home Olympics at 17-years-old and under-prepared.

“I have taken the negative experiences and tried to turn them on their head into positive ones to make sure things never happened again, or in different ways.

“That’s put me in a lot better place.

“If I just did average, I might not have learned many lessons. But because I did so badly, it made me learn so much more.

I’m a much more renowned diver. I have won medals all over the world in so many different events,”

Jack Laugher

“Now I’m a much more renowned diver. I have won medals all over the world in so many different events.

“It feels completely different and I feel in a completely different place.

“It’s the biggest competition of the year, the biggest competition in four years, so I’ve just got to make sure each dive is perfect and as good as I can make it. If that happens, then the outcome will arrive.

“It’s not about thinking about medals. You can get distracted by that.

Laugher and Mears won gold together at the 2014 Commonwealth Games

Laugher and Mears won gold together at the 2014 Commonwealth Games

“It’s about each individual step to ensure success.”

A gold for Laugher would create history for British diving. No individual or pair have ever topped the podium in the Olympic plunge pool leaving Britain trailing behind the likes of Sweden, Canada and Mexico in the sport’s hierarchy.

For a third successive Games, Tom Daley will spearhead the British squad once again in Rio, looking to upgrade the bronze he collected in front of an expectant home crowd in 2012.

Laugher has followed in Daley’s shadow throughout his rise to the world elite but arguably presents a better case to finish in the medals than his fellow former child prodigy.

Although Daley has landed celebrity television deals, including his appearances on the hit-ITV show Splash, following London, Laugher has preferred to focus on competition and perfecting his set of six dives.

His major breakthrough came in 2014 when winning his first medals on the World Diving Series.

But the year ended in more frustration as an error-strewn performance in the Commonwealth Games final saw him fall down to a shock silver medal, when gold looked a certainty.

The Games in Glasgow was the first international success of his partnership with best friend and room-mate Chris Mears, however, and the 3m synchronised perhaps now presents Laugher’s best opportunity to secure silverware in Brazil.

Only eight teams have qualified for the synchro event including rank outsiders Ian Matos and Luiz Outerelo from host nation Brazil.

Out of the remaining seven pairs, Laugher and Mears are the dangerous duo the favourites are watching out for.

The City of Leeds pair produced a sparkling performance to win gold at the European Championships earlier this year, a display which Laugher put alongside his best moments in the pool, and are ranked fourth in the world going into Wednesday’s final.

With their long-running domination of the sport, Chinese pair Cao Yuan and Qin Kai top the list of likely lads with Russia’s Evgeny Kuznetsov and Ilya Zakharov and Germany’s Stephan Feck and Patrick Hausding also in the mix.

Success alongside Mears has taken the pressure off Laugher’s individual hopes but he still sees medal chances in both as equal.

“I know I can medal in both of them,” he said.

“In synchro there is only eight pairs and that includes the pair from Brazil who only finished 19th at the World Cup.
Realistically, unless they do something fantastic, it’s seven pairs so it’s just like competing on the World Series.

“We have been medalling around the World Series and we won the European Championships, and medalled last year in the World Championships. I put us in a really good place there.”

Competition in the 3m springboard event comes from much closer to home as Yorkshire holds a unique representation in the field of athletes.

Sheffield’s Freddie Woodward joins Laugher in the Team GB squad while former Harrogate sparring partner Oliver Dingley flies the flag as Ireland’s first Olympic diver for 68 years.

Both are unlikely to contest the medal placings however City of Leeds compatriot Yona Knight-Wisdom put himself in the frame with a shock medal at the test event in Rio in February.

Laugher was absent from that field following an injury at the start of the 2016 competition season.

The setback meant his scores have dropped down from his 2015 British record total of 564.53 – a score which would have won gold at the last Olympics.

But he brushed off any concern it had put him, and his partnership with Mears ,back in their preparations for Rio.

“I haven’t shown my best yet this year because of the injury but I am feeling in a good shape,” said Laugher.

“It has set me back a bit in certain competitions but, when we went to the European Championships, me and Chris absolutely smashed it, so I think we are looking in a really good place for this one.

“Any injury is annoying but if I was going to get injured, that was the best time to do it. I got my off season done and all that hard work that I had done, was in the bag.

“It put me out for a couple of weeks and then I got back in for the World Cup where me and Chris were on for a gold medal until our last dive. It’s one of those things. It set me back a month but this year the competition season is one month longer so in a time factor, it’s not that bad.

“Obviously I’m annoyed about it but not as much as I could have been.”