Ross Haslam interview: City of Sheffield diver forgets four years of injury hurt to set up double British Championship gold
It’s their first thought in the morning and their major motivation when the pain of training gets too much to bear.
Ross Haslam, by contrast, is just happy to be back competing.
Seven years ago, the teenager from Sheffield was that up-and-coming diver trying to qualify for the Rio Olympics.
He’d been to the inaugural European Games a year earlier and would dive at the Commonwealth Games and European Championships in 2018.
‘Next best thing’ was not too grand a title to over-burden him with when suddenly the City of Sheffield diver’s body started to fall apart.
“Around the back end of 2018, and the whole of the 2019 season I had a really sore shoulder which I tried to power through,” Haslam, now 25, begins as he chronicles the injuries that took away the best part of four years of his career before he made a double gold-medal winning return at the British Championships last week.
“In the early days of the pandemic I tried to rehab the problem but wasn’t getting anywhere, so I finally saw a doctor and ended up having shoulder surgery in the summer of 2020.
“I was rehabbing that really well, was on the verge of coming back but then last year I got a stress fracture in my lower back.
“Whilst off with that I had my other shoulder operated on. So it has been a little bit rough in places.”
That line is traditionally followed by a question about the athlete’s mental health. There have been good days and bad days for Haslam over a period that amounts to an entire Olympic cycle, but overall he tried to maintain a positive attitude.
“I wish I could say I was super positive throughout," he admits. “When you lose the one thing you do all day every day, it can be a bit rough.
“It was tough, but during Covid lockdowns when people weren’t able to do anything it didn’t feel too bad because I was sort of doing everything I could do. I was still able to work on my lower body and core work, but it hit home when everyone was getting back into it and starting to dive, I’d just had my surgery and was only just back in the gym doing simple stuff. It’s hard when you can’t do as much as you want to.”
He managed only one event in 2021, the European Championships where he had previously been a bronze medallist in the 3m synchro. Haslam was nowhere near that level.
“It can feel like you’ve failed when you’ve done all that work to get back on the startline and don’t perform,” he reflects. “I guess that’s sport and that’s life. For a long time I was trying to read into everything, why did such and such go wrong? How can I improve it?
“In the last year or so I’ve tried to be a little kinder to myself. If something goes wrong, have a look at it but if there’s nothing you can change but it just so happens it went wrong, it doesn’t mean that you did something wrong.”
That outlook sustained him as he started building towards the British Championships at his home pool of Ponds Forge last week.
Haslam won a gold medal in the 3m synchro with Edinburgh-based James Heatly, gold in the 1m individual springboard and bronze in the all-important 3m, out of which Team GB’s next cohort of Olympians will be chosen.
“Honestly at this point I’m just glad to be back in the pool and glad to be back diving,” he smiles, mindful of the strength of competition in Britain alone – Yorkshire’s former Olympic champion Jack Laugher included – to go to the Olympics in the 3m disciplines. “I’ll take any opportunity I can to compete and compete well.
“I don’t think I’d be here now and at the point I am with my diving if I hadn’t had the time off. I had been suffering psychologically because I was training and competing in pain.
“So in a way that forced time off where you have to focus on getting your body better has helped psychologically and I feel I’m in a much better place to enjoy training, to enjoy competing. Now I can dive well and pull out my best when it matters, whereas before it felt like I was training really hard and not getting anything in return.”
He certainly performed in Sheffield and while it wasn’t enough to force his way into the 11-strong team to represent Great Britain at August’s world championships, it was enough to punch his ticket to the European Games in Poland later this month. “I’m just really excited to be back competing internationally,” he says. “I’ve put so much work in that I can enjoy diving a little bit more.”