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High School Sports

Divers navigate twists and turns

Athletes control their bodies, use their heads in unique ways

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Most high schools and colleges combine swimming and diving into one sport, and they are part of the same meets.

But in reality, the two are more different than the same.

“Truly, the only thing we have in common with swimmers is chlorinated water,” Arapahoe dive coach Jeff Smith said. “We are entirely separate sports.”

Swimmers perform certain strokes and the athlete with the fastest time is the winner. Divers, meanwhile, have a set of dives with degrees of difficulty and are awarded scores by judges.

“Swimmers have more patience,” said Susan Welch, an assistant diving coach who works with the teams in the Adams 12 Five Star district. “Divers have to face their fears more often.”

Divers usually have separate practices and different coaches than athletes on the swim team. Divers often appear like placekickers in football, off to the side.

“Outside of high school, diving is really a separate sport from swimming,” said Cherry Creek dive coach Grant Robinson. “It depends on the program. At Cherry Creek, we like to incorporate the team unity between the two different sports.”

For divers, as with football kickers, there is also a high degree of pressure to perform.

“Swimmers are better known, they have more events,” said Ralston Valley freshman Izzy Gregersen, one of the state’s top divers. “We get like one time.”

The pressure is not just to score well, but also to not get injured.

“Out of all the sports, when you are sinking a last-second free throw or kicking a field goal, there is no risk involved in some of those activities,” Ralston Valley diving coach Kevin Sage said. “In diving, you can really mess yourself up if you lose your awareness of where you are at, you can really do some damage. It’s the same way with gymnastics.”

Flipping the script

The divers in Class 5A with the five highest scores so far this season are all former gymnasts. They are sophomore Ally Brown, who competes for Horizon; junior Franny Cable, of Arapahoe; senior Sam Tamborski, of the Douglas County/Castle View team; Gregersen; and sophomore Addie Perlmutter, of Cherry Creek.

Many of the twists, turns and tucks of diving relate to gymnastics, but they do require some adjustments.

“What it takes to be a good diver is you have to have good balance and be a little bit crazy,” Smith said. “You have to be a little crazy to go up there spinning, have good kinesthetic awareness to where you are upside down and twisting in the air. You have to know where your body is, as well as where every part of your body is, so you can manipulate it properly in order to execute a good dive.”

Perlmutter said diving “corresponds” to gymnastics, but there is at least one big difference.

“You have to land on your head (in diving),” she said. “It took me a few months, but there are some things where I still have my old gymnastics habits. It took a few months to get used to landing on my head.”

In top form

The proper mechanics and mental approach are crucial in diving.

Cable has set numerous school and pool diving records this season. She gave up gymnastics before her freshman year, took a beginning diving class and has developed into one of best divers in the state.

“It took me a long time to get the concept of landing on my head,” said Cable. “There is always room for major improvements. There’s always room for new dives.”

Tamborski concedes it takes time to become a good diver and master the mental side of the sport.

“You have to have drive, really want to work hard to get good and listen to your coach,” she said. “It takes a long time to learn. I’ve been diving for five years. I still have more things to learn.

“It is absolutely a mental game. You really have to focus if you mess up a dive or it didn’t go the way you wanted. You have to focus and do better so you can make up for it.”

Divers’ abilities and fearlessness garner them the appreciation of their teammates.

Delaney Smith, no relation to coach Smith, is a senior swimmer at Arapahoe. She has committed to swim at UCLA and admits it has taken her a while to appreciate diving.

“I don’t understand how they twist in the air,” she said. “I’ve basically only seen diving in high school. I see it some when I watch the Olympics. I know they start practicing before we start practicing.

“They always have a lot of respect for what we are doing, and we have a lot of respect for them because I honestly would be so scared doing a flip in the air.”

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