FOR the vast majority of British competitors, the London Olympics were the stuff of dreams. For Ripon diver Jack Laugher, however, the 2012 Games were an unmitigated nightmare.
Competing in the London Aquatic Centre as an inexperienced 17-year-old, Laugher freely admits he froze on the biggest of stages. One of his dives in the 3m springboard qualifying round went so spectacularly wrong it earned a score of zero, and he was left slapping the water in frustration as his hopes of glory collapsed around him.
All of which makes last night’s triumph at the Commonwealth Games all the more rewarding and uplifting. In the two years since London, Laugher has developed into one of the leading divers in the world, with this month’s third place in the Shanghai World Cup confirming his ability to take on the best Chinese performers at their own game. But the questions about his ability to handle the pressure of a major Games remained.
Not anymore. Laugher didn’t just beat the best the Commonwealth has to offer in the 1m springboard competition at Edinburgh’s Royal Commonwealth Pool last night – he demolished them, claiming victory by a mammoth 45 points, a margin that is just about unheard of in elite-level diving.
The 1m event, which is not part of the Olympic programme, is not even supposed to be Laugher’s main discipline, and with both the 3m springboard and 3m synchronised competitions still to come, the North Yorkshireman could well end the Games with a trio of gold medals to his name.
Last night’s will always be special though, banishing the memories of London and conclusively drawing a line under an experience that has helped to make Laugher rather than break him.
“This definitely puts the Olympics right,” said the 19-year-old, who trains with the City of Leeds Diving Club. “I believe you learn from your mistakes and never let it happen again.
“It was a horrible experience, but I made the best of it and two weeks later or so, I had already got over it.
“It feels absolutely amazing to be Commonwealth champion – I’m nearly lost for words. The prelims went great, but to come out here and score almost 450 points on the 1m board is amazing.”
Laugher’s performance in yesterday morning’s preliminary round marked him out as a strong favourite in the final, but he trailed his team-mate, Chris Mears, after the opening two dives.
His third effort, which earned a string of high marks, changed that, and with Mears dropping away in the second half of the final, Laugher had opened up a sizeable advantage by the time he took to the low board for the final time.
His final dive – a backward two-and-a-half somersault – was right on the money, and he eventually finished with a score of 449.90, comfortably clear of his closest challenger, Australian Matthew Mitcham, who ended with 404.85.
The speed of Laugher’s execution was impressive throughout, with his control and consistency all the more creditable given the memories of two years previous.
“Going last is always hard, and the first two dives were a little bit shaky,” said Laugher. “But as soon as I got into my rhythm it started picking up and things started to go well.
“I’m training really hard, and I’ve moved out from home, which is giving me my independence. I’m training with my best mate, Chris Mears, as well. It’s going really well – I’m trying really hard constantly, and it’s going really well.”
Laugher returns to the pool this morning for the preliminary round of his preferred event, the 3m springboard, with the final due to take place later this evening.
He is then expected to team up with Mears for tomorrow morning’s 3m synchronised springboard final, and it would be a major surprise if he was not to add to his medal tally.
“I’d love to double up,” he said. “It would be amazing, but I haven’t really started to think about that yet. I’m just so happy, but it’s the 3m next and I’ll really be trying my hardest in that too.”