History of diving
The history of competitive diving spans roughly 100 years. During
this period the nature of diving has changed dramatically. Junior
divers now routinely perform dives once banned at the Olympic Games.
A report following the IV Olympiad suggested elimination of the
double somersault, because it was believed that a diver could not
control the execution without risk of injury! At the World Masters
Championships , women in the 50-59 age group springboard competition
are currently required to do 8 dives - the same number as the women
athletes in the Olympics of 1948.
Diving originated from people amusing themselves by jumping and
diving from natural features (rocks and cliffs) or from structures
built for other purposes (piers and bridges); early swimming and
diving clubs were based on ponds. In particular, travellers reported
amazing feats performed by natives diving from the cliffs in Acapulco,
Mexico and in Hawaii.
Origins of competitive diving
In the early nineteenth century, the only 'dive' was a simple plunge,
similar to that used by swimmers. The diver springs from the bathside
and aims to travel as far as possible under water. In Britain National
Plunging Championships were held from 1883 to 1937 - but continue
to this day in Yorkshire.
Diving developed as a competitive sport in the late nineteenth
century. Competitions were first conducted in Great Britain in about
Plain and fancy diving
|The early competitions involved just
plain dives from platforms- they involved the dive we now call
a forward dive straight . The Swedes performed graceful Swallow
dives. In Britain the dive was originally performed with the
arms held above the head in flight, and was known as the English
header; however, this proved more difficult and not so visually
pleasing as the Swedish version and eventually died out.
The sport as we know it today developed from gymnastics rather
than swimming. At the beginning of the century the divers were mostly
Swedish and German gymnasts who preferred practising with landings
in water, rather than on hard floors. In summer gymnastic equipment
was transferred to the beaches so that gymnasts could perform acrobatics
and land in the sea. Diving involving gymnastic movements such as
somersaults and/or twists was referred to as fancy diving. For some
years, separate competitions were held for plain and fancy diving.
In Europe fancy diving originated from platforms, and progressed
to springboards. In America, diving started later and evolved from
In Europe the early platforms were temporary structures erected
out of doors for the summer and then dismantled; most involved vertical
ladders and were somewhat hazardous, particularly in windy weather.
The early springboards consisted of planks of wood covered in coconut
matting to prevent divers from slipping. They were not very springy!
In the early days there was no 'standard' springboard, so visiting
divers having to use an unfamiliar board were always at a disadvantage.
In the early 1920s most fancy dives from platform and springboard
were performed in the straight position. As dives became more complex,
the straight position became less feasible, as the rotation was
too slow. In 1921 the Amateur Diving Association (England) stated:
'Certain somersaults may be made with a bend at the hips and knees
if the board is not sufficiently high to allow the limbs to be kept
straight. 'Back Front' dives should be performed with no bend at
the hips or
knees, but from a low board it will be found necessary to bend
at the hips.' With the introduction of multiple somersaults, it
became necessary to introduce the piked and tucked positions.
In the 1920 Olympic Games, the Header Forward (straight), the Pike
Dive and the Hunch Dive (tucked) were listed as three distinct dives.
Later it was decided to count them all as the same dive.
Diving developed rapidly through the first half of the twentieth
century. The British Empire Games (now the Commonwealth Games, held
every four years) were first held in Canada in 1903.
Divers (male) first competed in the Olympic Games in 1904. The
Olympic Games also take place every four years, but were not held
during the war years. For many decades the Games were dominated
by American divers; in recent years they have been dominated by
Prior to 1924 diving tables were extremely complicated; for example,
a dive performed from a standing take-off had a higher degree of
difficulty than that of the same dive performed with a running take-off.
The take-off for each forward or reverse dive could be performed
in three ways: standing, running from one foot or running from both
feet. A headfirst entry could be performed 'with or without hands'
- that is, with the arms above the head or against the side of the
body! A competition consisted of 10 compulsory dives and 2 'post'
dives drawn out of a hat; the latter were the more difficult dives
and caused the competitors great anxiety - fortunately this idea
has now been dropped!
The 1928 Olympic competition included compulsory and voluntary
dives; the compulsory dives were selected after each Olympic Games
and were in force for the following four years. This form of competition
continued for twenty years. From 1949 to 1956 all dives were voluntary
on platform and springboard, so the basic dives were rarely seen
in competition. The conditions were then revised to include five
required basic dives from the springboard, and restrictions on women's
diving were removed.
It was not until 1994 that the degree of difficulty of each dive
was defined on a logical basis, allowing specified contributions
for the following:
• number of half somersaults
• the flight position
• number of half twists
• the approach
• unnatural entry.
In recent years competitions in synchronized diving have been introduced.
Diving in Britain
The first diving stage in England was erected at Highgate Ponds
in 1893. In 1895 the Royal Life Saving Society staged the first
National Graceful Diving
Championship at Highgate Ponds; it involved standing and running
plain dives from firm boards at heights of 4.6 metres and 10 metres,
and was for men only.
The first British club was Highgate Diving Club, founded in 1928
and based at Highgate Ponds in North London. It was set up by a
group of English divers following the Olympic Games in Amsterdam
which demonstrated the supremacy of American divers. Diving at Highgate
Ponds involved dangers not encountered by divers of today: creaky
boards, rusty iron ladders, murky water with pond-life both above
and below the surface. Sometimes it was necessary to delay a dive
to allow a group of ducks to go by; touching the bottom of the pond
stirred up a cloud of muddy water and encounters with unknown objects
such as old bottles and cans.
By 1939 the club dominated the British diving scene, but was then
inoperative during the war years. Subsequently Highgate produced
many outstanding divers. The club was a male only club for many
years - the diving platform at Highgate Ponds was in the men's pool
and women had no access to it. Women were finally admitted as members
in 1990, as many of them were already being coached by the Highgate
In recent years diving has evolved very rapidly and great advances
have been made in complexity, for the following reasons.
Improved facilities include the following.
• standard alloy springboards
• bubble machines
• trampolines with rigs
• gymnastic facilities such as sprung floors and crash-mats
• safer depths of water, and use of water agitators.
Bubble machines enable divers to learn new dives without risk of
injury. They were invented by a Canadian, Herb Fllewellyn, in the
Today divers benefit from the use of video and highspeed film;
this enables them to analyse their dives in detail, and compare
them with those of their opponents.
This facility is particularly important in diving, since the consequences
of faults in take-off may not be apparent until the diver is in
Improved understanding of biomechanics
The understanding of the mechanics of somersaulting and twisting
has improved greatly over the years; divers no longer try to achieve
movements which are physically impossible!
Elite divers now enjoy the support of physiotherapists and psychologists;
they are regularly assessed for fitness and stress.
In recent years, competitive Masters diving has been introduced,
catering for adults of all standards and all ages. Competitions
are held mainly to provide opportunities to meet and to share the
enjoyment of diving. It is common to find ex-Olympic divers and
novices in the same competition.
In the UK, National Masters and Junior Masters Open Championships
were started in 1994, and this is now an annual event.
LEN established a Masters Committee in 199?
World Masters Championships have been held every two years since
1988 Brisbane, Australia
1990 Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
1992 Indianapolis, USA
1994 Montreal, Canada
1996 Sheffield, UK
1998 Casablanca, Morocco
2000 Munich, Germany
European Masters Championships have been held in the in-between
1987 Blackpool, UK
1989 Helsinki, Finland
1991 Coventry, UK
1993 Sindelfingen, Germany
1995 Riccione, Italy
1997 Prague, Czech Republic
1999 Innsbruck, Austria