Summer Olympics: All About Diving

All About Diving

Once you’re done with the truly elemental sports — running, jumping, swimming, fighting — you get to the next level of sports. These are sports that add or combine parts of elemental sports. Diving, jumping from land into water, has its roots in that type of combination, but it’s become much, much more. Plain diving, was first an Olympic sport in 1904. By 1908, a second form of diving, called “fancy diving” had gained Olympic status. Fancy diving added acrobatics to the mix. These two forms of diving stayed separate until 1928 when the two were combined. These days, the whole transitioning from land to water thing seems like merely a footnote in the sport of diving. Divers do so many incredible, eye-catching spins, flips, and tucks in mid-air, that it seems as if they’ll never actually hit the water!

How Does Diving Work?

Diving is one of the many Olympic sports that combines aesthetics with athleticism. Dives are scored by a panel of judges who evaluate each dive based on how well executed they are. A dive has three distinct elements that are scored: the approach, the flight, and the entry. An easy way to think about this is that each phase represents the diver in a single element: land, air, and water. If the diver has to deal with fire, something is very wrong. Of the three, the easiest to watch as a casual observer is the entry. The bigger the splash a diver makes, the worse they have done. This usually corresponds with another element of the entry — how vertical they are when they enter the water. Because it’s hard to know what a diver is trying to do in the air, it’s harder to know how well they have performed in the flight. The eleven judges don’t have this problem, both because they are experienced and expert viewers of the sport and also because all the divers must submit their dives before-hand. There is no free-lancing allowed. As in other similar sports, there is a balance between execution and technical difficulty. A well executed very difficult dive may score better than a perfectly executed easier one. In synchronized diving, where two divers execute a dive simultaneously, a fourth element is added into the mix — how closely one diver mirrors the other.

Why do People Like Watching Diving?

Grace in the air, precision timing, tumbling athleticism, chiseled minimalist bodies, and even more minimalist swim suits. What’s not to like? Plus, it’s the only sport where competitors get to chill out in a hot tub before and after their performances!

Check out some highlights from the 2012 Olympics:

What are the different events?

Diving has two different apparatuses, a traditional semi-flexible diving board, like the kind you see at your local pool. In olympic competition, this is called a springboard and is three meters off the ground. There is also a concrete platform to dive off of which is 10 meters (more than three stories!) high. Each apparatus has an individual event for each sex and a synchronized event. Although the individual events are more high-profile, the synchronized events may be more impressive. As hard as it is to believe anyone can perform tumbling acrobatic olympic dives, it’s even more amazing that two people can do it simultaneously.

How Dangerous is Diving?

Despite involving leaping and tumbling in such a way that a diver’s head passes within inches of the diving board or platform, diving tends not to be particularly dangerous for international quality athletes. Even the 10 meter platform, which would be horrifying to leap off of for most of us, is not normally a problem. When injuries do happen, they can be very scary. No one who was watching Greg Louganis’ famous head injury ( will forget it.

What’s the State of Gender Equality in Diving?

Quite good. Countries may bring up to sixteen divers with no more than eight of them being mon or women. The diving events are the same for men and women and they are judged identically. Plus, the men’s swim suits are as or more skimpy than the women’s!


Bookmark the full Olympics schedule from NBC. Diving is from Sunday, August 7 to Saturday, August 20.

Read more about diving on the official Rio Olympics site.

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