“When we returned to the water, we were really pleased with how everyone had improved technically”.
Those were the words of British Diving Performance Director Alexei Evangulov back in September. With a full five months away from regular training, it might come as a surprise that British divers had returned to poolside better than when they left.
“When lockdown was announced in the middle of March, I didn’t notice anyone panicking. We didn’t know how long we’d be locked down, people thought maybe one month, maybe two, but two weeks later the Olympic Games postponement announcement came and so we defined our strategy. No matter how long lockdown lasted, we decided we’d keep training online until September, as usually our season starts in September.
“I had several meetings on Zoom with my top coaches and British Diving management team, and we all agreed that the postponement is good for us. I prepared a table of our rivals’ ages and showed this to our top divers and coaches, explaining we had a great advantage over our rivals. Our main rivals are much older than our team – often 32, 33, 35, whilst our divers are 24, 25, 26. So what does this mean? Some of our main competitors have already reached their ceiling and so their goal is to maintain their shape. On the other hand, our team is still developing.”
But there was another key question the esteemed coach put to his team.
“I said to our divers and coaches: ‘If I asked you two months out from the Olympic Games in 2020, what would you tell me you still needed?’
“The answer from almost everybody was that we’d still need some more time. So whilst our rivals will be working to maintain what they have, our divers will be continuing to develop, improving their technical issues, and this gave us a great motivation for lockdown.”
So what, then, were the British divers doing during their time out of the water that enabled them to return technically better than ever before?
“During lockdown, everybody arranged their dry land facility in their back yard, apartments, houses and our coaches started doing online training, with most sessions dedicated to simulations. We probably spent 80% of our time working on simulations, and our coaches developed lots of new exercises, which I was really impressed with – exercises that perfectly simulated the movements they do in the air.
“They broke the dive down into parts:
“The divers did thousands of repetitions of these different exercises until they were automatic. The other job was on strength and conditioning, and Ruslan [Panteleymonov] ran very good, specific sessions on this. Stretching and yoga were another big thing, as was the athletes’ mental health, which I was checking up on weekly.
“When the divers were back in the pool, in August and September, I noticed a great improvement in technique and everybody agreed that we have received an advantage by continuing to work on our technique.”
After a tough six months, the team were able to embark on their annual pre-season training camp in Turkey, which was perhaps of even greater benefit in 2020.
“Last month, we went to Turkey for a training camp, which was the first time I’d seen them all in the water together after a long lockdown, and they showed really good technique. They received some good vitamin D, benefited from the outdoor training and it was just fantastic – the outcome of the camp was great.”
With England now in a second lockdown, and Scotland and Wales impacted by their own coronavirus restrictions, and so the majority of divers up and down the country unable to access the water, Evangulov was quick to stress that with the right attitude, you can still make good progress.
Citing what is happening at the lower end of the diving pathway, Alexei said:
“Julian Bellan is doing a really good job and I’m really happy with how he’s doing. Our potential future Olympians are under his supervision and I’m really happy with how he’s organised online training, with a massive amount of variation. It’s not just strength and conditioning and simulation work, but ballet, yoga, theoretical sessions and Q&As with international divers. He’s been keeping our young divers motivated and he’s doing a great job.
“Thankfully we can still keep training, even during the second lockdown.”As for the British Olympic hopefuls, they are in the very fortunate position of being able to train as normal under UK Sport’s Return To Training guidelines. With the Tokyo Games now just eight months away, the Olympic build up is underway once more, in earnest.