Whether from the side of a pool or from a springboard, diving is a sport performed by plunging into water. When done by trained athletes, it is one of the most graceful of exhibitions.
Diving as a sport demands a spirit of daring from its participants. It also demands coordination, muscular control, and exact timing. Diving requires body conditioning through daily exercise and constant practice. It is gymnastics performed over water.
Dives may be performed from either a springboard or a platform. The springboard is a flexible, light, and springy aluminum-alloy board with a non-slip surface. The diver can spring upward to obtain extra height in the dive, giving more time in the air to do somersaults and twists. Springboards are either 1 or 3 meters high; the distance is measured from the surface of the water to the bottom of the board. In Olympic, regional, national, and international competitions, the 3-meter springboard is used.
The platform is a rigid fixture covered with a nonslip surface 5, 7.5, or 10 meters high. Competition is generally held only at the 10-meter height, with divers plummeting headfirst at more than 30 miles per hour.
In competitive diving the water is the landing medium as a mat is for the gymnast. It is the flight through the air that is the dive and that provides the challenge. Competitive diving is really diving gymnastics. It enables one to do something that can be achieved in few other sports: flying through the air without any means of support and landing safely without discomfort.
There are approximately 70 different dives listed for competition. Each dive has a designated number and may be performed in one of four positions. In the straight position the body is not bent either at the knees or at the hips, the feet are together, and the toes pointed. In the pike position the body is bent at the hips, but the legs must be kept straight at the knees, the feet together, and the toes pointed. In the tuck position the body is compact, bent at the knees, feet together, hands on the lower legs, and toes pointed. In free position the body position is optional, but the legs are together and the toes pointed.
All competetive dives are divided into six categories. They are: forward dives the diver both faces and dives forward; backward dives the diver faces backward and dives so that the body rotates away from the board; reverse dives the diver faces forward but dives so that the body rotates toward the board; inward dives the diver faces backward but dives so that the body rotates toward the board; twisting dives the diver, from either of the starting positions, twists the body in the air before reaching the water; handstand, or armstand, dives the diver begins the dive from a motionless handstand at the edge of a platform only.
Professionals have dived from temporary towers, often more than 60 feet (18 meters) high, into tanks of water for exhibitions at fairgrounds, marine lands, and carnivals. A big tourist attraction at Acapulco, Mexico, is divers going headfirst off the high cliffs into the sea. At many competitions comic diving has been added as a crowd-pleasing event. The divers are clad in funny costumes, performing dives that are unorthodox and amusing.
Like gymnastics and figure skating, diving is judged by experts. For Olympic games and world championships, seven judges make up a panel; for all other competitions, five are sufficient. Each judge rates every dive on the approach, takeoff, elevation, execution, and entry into the water. A score from zero to ten is given. In major competitions the highest and lowest are cancelled. The remaining scores are added and multiplied by the degree of difficulty to give the final score. The difficulty ratings are from 1.0 for simple dives to 3.4 for very difficult. A complicated rating table has been devised by the Federation Internationale de Natation Amateur (FINA), the world governing body that controls the sport.
Diving did not become a formal competition until about 1880. In 1883 the Amateur Swimming Association of Great Britain began a distance competition known as plunging. This was a standing dive made headfirst from a firm base. The body was kept motionless face downward.
The plunge terminated when the competitor raised his face from the surface of the water or when 60 seconds had elapsed. The distance traveled from takeoff to the farthest point reached by any part of the body determined the winner. The event was discontinued with a record of 86 feet 8 inches.
In the 1800s divers from Sweden came to England and demonstrated fancy high diving. In 1895 the English Royal Life Saving Society staged the first National Graceful Diving Competition. It was for men only and consisted of running plain dives from heights of 15 and 33 feet (5 and 10 meters). In Europe divers graduated from plain diving to fancy diving, from platforms to springboards. Fancy diving began the era of somersaults and twists.
Springboard diving was included in the 1904 Olympic games in St. Louis. Platform diving was added to the supplementary Olympic games at Athens in 1906. In 1928 plain and fancy high diving events were combined into one competition and renamed highboard diving, and fancy was dropped from the diving vocabulary.
In the 1912 Olympic games at Stockholm, women were allowed to compete in plain diving for the first time. This remained in effect until 1920, when the events were divided into springboard and platform diving. Prior to 1918 Sweden dominated the fancy high diving events and Germany the men's springboard diving. When the Olympic games resumed after World War I, United States men and women dominated, sweeping all six springboard medals in 1920. American domination continued with only occasional losses. In the 1984 Olympics, held in Los Angeles, the Peoples' Republic of China emerged as a serious competitor, winning the women's platform and placing second in the men's springboard and third in the men's platform.
Diving competitions take place in high schools and colleges but are confined to springboard. In open competition, Olympic, World, and international events the 3-meter springboard and 10-meter platforms are the events. Diving is now part of amateur aquatic programs in more than 35 countries.
Somersault and twisting dives that once were considered impossible for experienced adults are now performed by school children. Training for Olympic class divers now starts when a child reaches 10 years of age and in the United States sometimes even younger.