Funding a Dream: Oliver Dingley's journey to becoming a world class diver

Ireland's first Olympic diver in almost 70 years discusses the pressures and privileges of competing as a world class athlete

BY Cian Roche 09:30 Wednesday 12 April 2017, 9:30 12 Apr 2017

Image: Rodolfo Buhrer/La Imagem/Fotoarena

"It's one thing trying new dives in training, but something else to try it in competition when there's pressure on."

Oliver Dingley has had a gentle comedown following last summer's highs. After the Olympic Games in Rio, he decided to take a small break which allowed him take some of the pressure off himself.

Training was pulled back - not easy for an elite athlete - and he even managed to squeeze in a holiday.

His return to the pool since the start of the year has been gradual and even now the work begins to try and land new and exciting dives for an upcoming Diving World Series event in Canada.

"As long as I get them working for Worlds in the summer, I'll be fine," he says. 

"This year I'm adding in two harder dives to my list. A forward four-and-a-half somersaults and a reverse three-and-a-half somersaults.

"Next year I want to add a harder twister into my list."

The twists, he explains, are dives where you throw yourself and then "hold on for your life".

The risk of failure with these moves can be high and that's why divers give themselves as much time as possible to master their moves.

The risk of injury is also a constant threat. An incorrect landing could do damage to any part of the body, let alone incurring a bad score from the judges. 

What isn't as obvious is the knock-on effect that can occur when these moves don't get perfected and these twists result in low scores.

Failure to finish in certain positions at World and European level can impact on how much funding the 24-year-old is entitled to get.

Having come to Swim Ireland on a special allocation, Dingley qualified for last year's Olympic Games and his captivating performance saw him finish eighth in the 3M springboard final, along with a new personal best.

"My funding depended on the Olympics and that was one of the most nerve wracking things, if I didn't make an Olympic semi-final I knew I wouldn't get any money next year.

"I had Swim Ireland funding, they gifted it as I wasn't a carded athlete."

He has since been upgraded to the status of carded athlete and falls into the bracket of World Class, which entitles him to €20,000 funding for this year. 

"I knew financially a lot depended on Rio and I think that's kind of sad too when you have to think about the money. I felt a certain amount of pressure but I kind of enjoy it.

"I class myself as an average diver. I always train and graft as hard as I can but I never train amazingly and I never seem to do anything amazing but when I get to competition I always seem to have this nice habit of being able to step up.

"Sport Ireland are more keen to back diving and they're firmly behind it.

He added: "My card is reviewed on a yearly basis. I might not be on any money next year as far as I know or I could be on Podium funding but it all depends on the World Championships."

Oliver Dingley competing in the 3M springboard semifinal last summer. Dingley qualified for the final and went on to finish eighth. Image: USA TODAY Network / SIPA USA/PA Images

It can be viewed as an added incentive to do as well as possible, or an additional under which Dingley has to perform. 

With the decision to allocate Dingley the the additional funding, the former Team GB diver says, shows that Sport Ireland 'now has the intention of backing diving' - at least until Tokyo.

"The sport is to be getting those calls and to see the money that’s going in. I’m not too sure what the diving budget is, but I think it’s better than it's ever been.

"That’s partly because of a great result in Rio."

The funding covers the day-to-day expenses of the Harrogate native. Living on the National Sports Campus in Abbottstown is a plus and not having to travel far for training everyday is an added bonus. 

"Saving up for a car, for example, is a bit of a nightmare. I have to watch my pennies basically.

"I want to move off the campus at some point. At 24-years-old, I’d like to live a little closer to the city. But to do that, that means getting a second job.

"So to be a world-class athlete - which generally requires full time commitment - and to supplement that with another income as well, it’s going to be pretty tricky.

"I feel quite isolated on the campus sometimes."

The idea may not be feasible right now, with World Series events forcing him to travel around the world. Meanwhile training - 30 hours of his week - dominants the other part of his life.

"The reason I’m in this position in the first place is because of my diving.

"That’s the main goal at the moment. I have others fields, I’m quite interested in my graphic design.

"I’d like to explore those avenues. Diving isn’t going to be there forever. Studying might be a bit of a stretch right now.

"I wouldn’t mind going back to education one day."

In many ways, life at the top for Dingley is precarious. The pressure on him to be the best requires him to try new things, whilst maintaining positive results.

In the background remains the pressure of maintaining his status as a world class athlete and retaining his funding for another year.

Every twist and every jump might feel like he's holding on in more ways than one. 

Oliver Dingley was speaking at the launch of Mycosan Fungal Nail's 'Get Your Socks Off' campaign which encourages men to avoid fungal infection by following 11 simple steps. Mycosan Fungal Nail, available from pharmacies nationwide. For more information visit: www.mycosan.com

Off The Ball

Newsletter

The very best bits of Off The Ball delivered every week