Diving Events in the 2012 Summer Olympics

Although people often think “water” when they think about Olympic diving, the sport originally was born out of gymnastics, not swimming. The seriously intense Olympic diving events you see today are the descendants of 17th century fun and games of German and Swedish acrobats, who moved their equipment outside in the hot summers and practiced their fancy twists and spins over pools and lakes.

Men’s diving events were introduced to the Olympic Games in 1904; women’s diving followed in 1912. Synchronized (“sync”) diving (two divers performing the same moves simultaneously) entered the Olympic Games in 2000.

The basic goal of Olympic diving competition is to score the highest number of points, which are awarded based on how well you execute your dives. Divers tell the judges ahead of time which dive they will be attempting. The score for the dive (10 = perfect) is then multiplied by the complexity or difficulty of the dive.

Each event takes place on one of two types of diving boards:

  • Platform: A diving platform is a rigid board that is 3 meters wide and 6 meters long. An Olympic diving platform is 10 meters above the surface of the diving pool.

  • Springboard: As the name implies, a springboard is flexible and it bounces, giving competitors more “oomph” and momentum to perform more complex dives. A springboard is 50 centimeters wide, no less than 4.8 meters long, and is mounted 3 meters above the surface.

For all events, the diving pool is 25 meters long and 5 meters deep. There are four stages for every dive, and each stage is as important as the next: the starting position, take off, the dive, and the water entry.

The judges award points based on very detailed execution criteria. In stage 4, for example, the diver tries not to make a splash when entering the water after the dive is complete. The less splash, the higher the score.

In the Summer Olympics, four men’s events and four women’s events are held:

  • Men's 3-meter springboard

  • Men's 10-meter platform

  • Men's synchronized 3-meter springboard

  • Men's synchronized 10-meter platform

  • Women's 3-meter springboard

  • Women's 10-meter platform

  • Women's synchronized 3-meter springboard

  • Women's synchronized 10-meter platform

Types of Olympic dives

There are six types of dives seen in the Summer Olympics:

  • In a forward dive, the diver begins facing the water. At takeoff, the diver tumbles forward.

  • In a backward dive, the diver faces backward (away from the water). The takeoff begins with the diver spinning backward.

  • A reverse dive starts with the diver facing the water like in a forward dive, but instead of leaning over and spinning forward, the diver jumps up and out and then spins backward, heels over head, toward the board. Historically, these dives were referred to as gainers.

  • An inward dive, formerly called a cutaway, begins with the diver facing backward; at takeoff, the diver jumps out then rolls forward toward the board.

  • Twisting dives will always include twists, spins, or rolls (somersaults), regardless of the starting position. The more moves in a dive, the higher the potential points. One such dive, the Three-And-A-Half Reverse Somersault With Tuck, won Greg Louganis a gold medal in the Men’s 10-meter Platform in 1988, but not before he hit his head on the platform in an attempt at the same dive earlier in the competition.

  • In an armstand dive (platform diving only), the starting position is in a handstand (upside down, with feet straight up and all weight resting on the diver’s outstretched arms) at the edge of the board, facing either forward or backward.

Diving positions

Diving, like its parent sport of gymnastics, is a very athletic sport that requires great physical strength and agility. Olympic divers must be in their absolute best physical condition to execute the moves and positions required in the competition. For example:

  • In a pike, the diver’s body bends essentially in half at the hips, legs straight, like a folded pocket knife.

  • In the tuck position, the diver curls up into a ball, usually to perform somersaults.

  • The straight position is exactly that: the diver’s legs and torso are in a straight line (although there may be an arch in the back, depending on the next move).

Visit the website of the sport’s official governing body, the International Swimming Federation (FINA), for more details about Olympic diving.

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