YORKSHIRE athletes will make up more than half of the Great British diving squad at the 2016 Olympic Games.
Sheffield diver Freddie Woodward joins a quintet of City of Leeds club members for his first Olympic experience, it was announced yesterday at the John Charles Aquatics Centre in Middleton.
At 16-year-old, Lois Toulson will be the youngest member of the British squad in the 10m synchronised while Leeds team-mates Jack Laugher, Chris Mears, Alicia Blagg and Rebecca Gallantree carry strong medal hopes for Rio.
Woodward will compete against world bronze medallist Laugher in the 3m springboard after securing his spot at the national trials in his home city of Sheffield last week.
“It’s quite a difficult task to put into words how I am feeling right now, this wasn’t something I was necessarily expecting,” said the 20-year-old, who won bronze at the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow.
“Going into this year I was thinking my main shot of the Olympic Games was probably Tokyo. But this year has gone from strength to strength. I have been diving incredibly well and I’m in the form of my life.
“I just want to go and enjoy it and see what that creates.
“I would love to make a final but the men’s 3m is an incredibly competitive event. I have shown that I can put up a steady performance under extreme pressure and that is the name of the game in diving.
“If I dive like I can do, a final is out there for me. You have to be in it to win it. If I’m diving well, then we’ll see.”
Laugher heads to Rio as one of the leading contenders for gold in the 3m springboard and is looking to make amends from a nightmare competition at London 2012.
Aged 17, the Ripon diver slipped off the board in qualification four years ago as his hopes of reaching the final were dashed in an instant.
Following a breakthrough year on the world stage in 2015, Laugher knows only too well what a perfect set of six dives could secure at the outdoor Maria Lenk Aquatics Centre.
The 21-year-old said: “The first Olympics didn’t go my way but I feel brilliant now.
“I was in a completely different place back then. I had done just a handful of competitions internationally and now I’m much more a renowned diver and I’ve won medals all over the world. I feel a completely different person in a completely different place. I don’t want to focus on the medals, you can get distracted by that. It’s about working each individual step to secure success.”
Britain’s best-ever diving medal haul from a single Olympics is two from the 1960 Rome Games.
Laugher has the potential to match that himself with strong medal claims alongside best friend and housemate Chris Mears in the 3m synchro.
The City of Leeds pair won gold at the European Championships in London last month and also topped the podium at the Commonwealth Games two years ago.
Gallantree, 32, and Blagg, 19, won silver in the women’s 3m synchro as Britain claimed a record medal haul at the Europeans and the duo will eye a medal when teamming up again in Brazil. Gallantree, a world champion alongside Tom Daley in a trial mixed 3m competition last year, has also qualified for the 3m individual springboard.
Huddersfield’s Toulson was the surprise call of the squad and will partner women’s 10m medal prospect Tonia Couch in the synchronised event on the same platform. After winning bronze at London 2012, Daley will once again take on the dominant Chinese athletes in the 10m platform and alongside Daniel Goodfellow in the synchronised event. Grace Reid (3m springboard) and Sarah Barrow (women’s 10m) complete the 11-strong British squad.