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WHAT IS IT GOING TO TAKE TO WIN MORE THAN TWO BRONZE MEDALS IN 2000?
Hobie Billingsly

WHAT IS IT GOING TO TAKE TO WIN

In the recent Olympic Games, the American divers managed to garner only two medals both of which were bronze. This proved to be the worst showing that the United States has made in Olympic Games since 1912 which was the last time that at least one gold medal and more than two medals wasn’t won by our divers. This kind of performance is hard to believe when the sport of diving in our country is now controlled by its own organization (diving was under the control of the swimming organization for around sixty years), has adequate diving facilities, a strong age group diving program, plenty of money to develop good divers through excellent educational and developmental programs, adequate coaching, etc. In other words, our diving program in America is very sound at all levels and we seem to have all of the means to develop top divers, but still we have faltered in not only the Olympics but also in “all” of the World Championships staged since 1992. What has happened to cause such performances when we have everything needed to uphold the tradition of being supreme in the world of diving has been a mystery.

THE PROBLEMS

In looking back at our sport for the past few years, we find that one of the big problems affecting the performance of our divers involves “time”. When comparing our diving programs with other countries that have superior divers, we find that they all have time to develop their divers to a top level. This is especially true with divers from Russia and China. Their divers can practice six to eight hours a day, six to seven days a week because they are employed and subsidized by their governments. The families of the better divers are also supported by their governments, which offer a great incentive for the divers to perform well. This is not possible for divers in the United States since our government does not finance our divers. Most of the American divers go to school or have jobs that take around eight hours of their time each day. They also engage in social and domestic activities, which leave little more than two or three hours a day for training. Also, our philosophy for participating in the sport differs from most other countries for our divers compete for the fun of the sport and as a form of recreation while they compete to survive and to obtain better living standards.

Observing further, we find that to be a top diver, one needs to learn and perfect dives that are extremely difficult, which require a lot of time if to be performed successfully and with consistency. This kind of preparation requires training programs that provide exercises for flexibility, body conditioning, and strength; the use of the trampoline, port-o-pit, mats, videos etc. Most American divers must also learn to perform dives from the one, three, and ten-meter levels; practice lead-up dives in preparation for the execution of difficult dives; and perform line-ups in order to develop rip entries. More time is needed for those who wish to participate in a new diving event, synchronized diving. Thus, when one observes how much time it takes to cover all of these activities in order to be a top performer, it becomes quite clear why we in this country are having difficulty competing with our advisories. Further more, when our college divers are not permitted to practice more than twenty hours a week, and divers in other American programs who practice not much more than that time, are compared with divers from opposing countries who practice around forty hours a week, it becomes obvious why we are having a tough time competing with them.

Another problem pertaining to time involves the number of dives performed in practice and the number of diving events. Years ago, divers competed on the one meter, three meter, and some on the ten meter platform in the summer. During this period, nearly all American divers competed on the one-meter board, which included all high school divers, while the rest of the world did not compete at this level. The American divers who went to college usually dived from the one meter and three meter springboards because most were on scholarship, which normally required such participation. In recent years, the tower event was added to the college program so college divers now may dive in three events all year long. Those divers who are not in college often compete in as many as four events for synchronized diving has been added to the program. In the past, with the absence of one-meter competition in other countries, foreign divers competed in only one or two events, which meant they had more time to focus on their dives than the Americans who were diving in more than two events. A major change has been made by many foreign divers which is giving great concern to the American divers and this in particular involves the Chinese divers. Like the Russians and Germans, the Chinese are beginning to specialize by diving in only one event with an occasional exception where a diver is good enough to dive in two events.

It is recognized that diving in more than one event takes up a lot of time for practice, which most divers don’t have if they are to use all of the training activities that are necessary to become a top diver. The time needed to train for more than one event has now placed the American divers in a precarious position when competing against foreign divers. It is easy to see that if divers from other countries practice forty hours a week and dive in one event while the American divers practice only twenty hours a week and compete in two or more events, then our problem with competing at there level is monumental. It may be noted that in training for the recent Olympics many of our divers did concentrate on competing in one event. This was particularly noticeable in the men’s three meter event for we had divers such as Bradshaw, Ferguson Lenzi, Downey, and Panero to mention a few who focused on one event. The two divers who dived tower in the Olympics also trained for the three-meter event, which may have affected their tower outcome.

Another area where American divers faltered between 1992 and 1996 was in performing dives with lower degrees of difficulty then those performed by their opponents. This was particularly noticeable in the 1994 World Championships held in Rome and also on the ten-meter platform for women at the Olympics in Atlanta. In Rome, the American women divers performed their dives without limit from the three-meter board in the tuck position where the better divers from other countries executed many of their optional dives in the pike position. The winner from China performed all of her difficult dives in the pike position, which also included the forward 3 somersaults while the American divers executed forward 2 somersaults, pike. A similar situation occurred on the men’s ten meter platform in the same meet when our top American diver performed inward and backward 2 somersaults, pike while all of the other finalists performed inward, back, and reverse 3 somersaults, tuck. The difference in the degrees of difficulty left our divers in a position where it was virtually impossible for them to medal no matter how well they performed their dives. The problem here was that the Americans were not cognizant of the kind of difficult dives needed to be competitive and therefore, spent the first two years after the 1992 Olympics doing little to increase the difficulty of their dives. Certainly, if the divers had practiced lead-up dives in preparation for more difficult dives during that period, some of them would have been able to master the dives well enough to compete at the top level.

Perhaps the most controversial subject in diving today concerns the attempt of divers to copy the Chinese style of diving. The whole world was in awe of the Chinese when they first came on the scene nearly two decades ago, and everyone wanted to dive like their divers. The attempt to copy their style and technique has moved to the point where several countries have employed Chinese coaches to teach the Chinese methods of diving. Though these coaches, some of which are limited in their knowledge and experience, may have proven to be helpful in many of our diving programs, they have not been able to clone others to dive like the Chinese who spend eight hours a day practicing diving skills and conditioning exercises. When asked where they learned their diving techniques, the top Chinese coaches stated that they learned nearly everything from the Russians who in turn learned it from the Americans....so now, the Americans are trying to emulate the Chinese and they think we are crazy because they, indirectly, learned most of what they know from the Americans.

SOME SOLUTIONS

So, the big question is “How in the world can an American diver find the time to train in an environment that demands so much and still enjoy a normal life?” I don’t believe that any of our divers want to become fanatics by diving all day long just to prove a point. Most youngsters participate in many enjoyable activities outside of diving which offer various forms of cultural and recreational experiences that contribute to natural growth. Granted, other sports such as gymnastics and swimming are as demanding of their athlete’s time as diving and also require a great sacrifice from those who participate. But, in this respect, ‘time’ is the big factor and our need for its use creates a huge problem.

If we accept the fact that time is a major concern in training, we first must attempt to assess the quantity and quality of the time at hand and dedicate every effort to use that time where it will best improve the performance of our divers. To take such an approach requires that we recognize the strengths and weakness of the diving program, fix those things that are broke, establish priorities in terms of the importance to the divers, form short term and long term goals and objectives that are realistic and well within capabilities of the divers, and then try to develop a program that is workable, which can satisfy the needs of each diver within the time frame available.

The forming of such programs must be suited for individuals rather than groups though some activities may be helpful to everyone. For example, if a program is set up to include exercises that improve the flexibility of a diver, it is of little use to the person who is already flexible so it would be a waste of time for that person to participate in that particular phase. However, if that person were in need of strength, then it would be profitable to participate in a strength program. Similarly, a person who knows how to rip entries need not spend any great amount of time in an area already mastered though time should be taken to maintain the excellence of the skill.

The diving program should be set up so those who plan to dive at the international level may do so with the intent of diving in only one event and at most two events. The divers can then focus and concentrate on dives needed for international competition. Though reducing the number of events may be difficult for some divers to accept, they must realize that they will have difficulty beating the opposition if they practice for a lot of events, which increases the number of dives in practice. Subsequently, decreasing the number of events offers the diver an opportunity to practice and focus more in executing certain dives, which can affect the success of a performance. Granted, many divers do not wish to adopt a plan that requires a reduction in the number of events but if they are realistic, they will understand that to beat the opposition will require good planning and some sacrifice. Also, few divers can or are willing to totally dedicate themselves to diving for the awards will require granted, many divers do not wish to adopt a plan that requires a reduction in the number of events but if they are realistic, they will understand that to beat the opposition will require good planning and some sacrifice. Also, few divers can or are willing to totally dedicate themselves to diving for the rewards are sometimes hardly worth the effort. But if our divers concentrate on performing in one or two events at the most, the time can then be quality time though still not quantity time. It is also suggested that divers practice one meter diving when this even is offered in world events but not during the Olympic year when the one-meter event is not scheduled. It may be noted that with the exception of Greg Louganis and FU Mingxia, earning medals in two events has been extremely rare in recent years. Even Xionog NI and Demitri Saltine, two of the finest divers in the world, were not able to medal in more than one event at the Olympics. I personally believe that the keenness of the sport will make it more and more difficult for divers to medal in two events at World and Olympic championships in future years and since divers in America have limits to the time they can practice, such a feat will be very difficult.

With the passing of the 1996 Olympics, it is hopeful that American divers and coaches don’t make the same mistake again concerning the kind of dives needed to medal in future World and Olympic Championships. We have four years to perfect the dives needed to medal and the time for the divers to start working on them is NOW. Obviously, the sport requires divers to be extremely strong and explosive so a top priority in a diving program is to offer a strength program for those who don’t possess such characteristics.

As a diving coach for nearly fifty years at all levels of competition, I believe that if the American divers are ever to compete at the same levels as the Russians and Chinese, we must do it the American way which has proven over and over to be good enough over the last 75 years. I also believe that when one copies from another, then the one copying most generally is second to one copied. It baffles me when I see coaches and divers feel they can beat the opponent at their own game when their time is so limited. Certainly, we would do well to adopt some of their techniques and styles that could help our divers but if we want to copy the best techniques and styles to beat the opponent, then why not start with Greg Louganis and Mark Lenzi who were the last American divers to beat the world and neither of these two divers ever copied anything from the Chinese and Russians.

We must realize that coaches and divers from all over the world have copied each other for over sixty years. Up until 1960, divers learned to dive by trial and error and by copying the styles and techniques from those who were better than them, which was not a problem for American divers because they were the best in the world. This all began to change when some coaches began to seek another source for diving information and found it in the mechanical principles developed through Newton’s Laws of Motion. Unfortunately, most American diving coaches have been painfully slow in recognizing this source for information and still look for answers by using the trial and error method or by copying others. I feel that if we don’t wake up and recognize Newton’s mechanical principles, we will never be a real threat to those who now dominate the sport. Oh, we may produce a Louganis or Lenzi on occasion but we will not produce diving powers such as we have enjoyed since 1920.

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