Jack Laugher and City of Leeds Diving Club emerge stronger than ever from Covid disruption

Olympic champion Jack Laugher and his City of Leeds team-mates did not dive off a board for four months due to the coronavirus pandemic, but do not let supporters or rivals think for one second that means standards have slipped.

Olympic champion Jack Laugher of Great Britain. (Picture: Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

If anything, this most challenging of years has made the squad based at the John Charles Aquatics Centre in Leeds stronger than ever.

Indeed, so determined were they to get back to action in the summer, that the club that has sent a handful of divers to represent Great Britain at the last three Olympic Games, were among the first to get back into the pool in July.

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The application and desire of the squad has drawn high praise from their head coach Joe Meszaros, who has been heartened by how the City of Leeds club have not let months of inactivity and nearly a year without competition quell their appetite.

City of Leeds Diving Club's head coach of diving Joe Meszaros. ( Picture: James Hardisty)

“As coaches we were worried that the divers might get a bit stale, might get a bit flat because all they’ve been able to do is train, but we’ve not really seen that,” said Meszaros.

“The environment we have created in-house is pretty intense, but friendly. Even though the events aren’t there the divers are experienced enough to know where they are and to trust in their plan.

“Ok, competitions aren’t happening, we can’t measure ourselves against the rest of the world, but the diving is looking good, we’re knuckling down, there’s plenty of encouragement and support here. It’s very much a case of business as usual while appreciating there’s work to be done.”

Like the rest of society, City of Leeds Diving Club was shut down at short notice in the middle of March when the United Kingdom went into lockdown to combat coronavirus. It meant that Laugher – Britain’s most successful Olympic diver with a gold and a silver won in Rio – Lois Toulson, Dan Goodfellow and Katherine Torrance had to go home and train in their living rooms.

Lois Toulson secured Commonwealth bronze in the 10m diving.

Competitions were quickly cancelled, with the Olympic Games getting postponed until August 2021.

They were allowed back into the John Charles for dry-land training in June, and finally got back in the pools in late July with the rest of the City of Leeds junior divers following in early August. Even through the most recent second lockdown, the elite divers were still able to use the facility to train.

“It’s not been without its hard work, there’s been a lot of blood sweat and tears,” said Meszaros about the long wait to get back into something like the old routine.

“The national governing body, Leeds council, myself – it’s been a collaborative effort.

City of Leeds's Katherine Torrance in the Women's 1m Springboard Final at the Optus Aquatic Centre during day nine of the 2018 Commonwealth Games in the Gold Coast, Australia. (Picture: Danny Lawson/PA Wire.)

“In the grand scheme of things we’ve been very, very fortunate.

“It’s very much been a case of cracking on and dealing with the situation as best we can.

“But Jack and the guys are working hard. There’s tough days, there’s better days, but even on the tougher days there’s a certain element of positivity around. They take it on the chin, have a bit of a laugh about it. There’s no turn-off from the year they’ve had, which is really good to see, really encouraging.”

And through it all, the City of Leeds club had company from down the M1.

When the City of Sheffield Diving Club were informed in the summer that their international-standard facility at Ponds Forge would be mothballed due to concerns over the costs of re-opening following the coronavirus pandemic, a helping hand was offered by their Yorkshire counterparts.

“We’ve been helping the senior athletes down at Sheffield since the back end of August,” said Meszaros, who has seen the likes of Ross and Jack Haslam from Sheffield diving with his four Olympic hopefuls Laugher, Toulson, Goodfellow and Torrance, and Leeds’s emerging talents Phoebe Banks and Athony Harding.

“The relationship Leeds and Sheffield have is a good, friendly rivalry, but we like to help each other out.

“It’s been great to support them.

“Leeds has been a hub for those elite funded athletes of the north, for those divers to get some training under the belts.”

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