By Mark Etheridge
Broken bones, shin splints,back spasms, tendinitis… they’re all part and parcel of Jaimee Gundry’s path which will hopefully take her to this year’s Commonwealth Games in Gold Coast, Australia.
Gundry was one of four South African divers who have provisionally qualified for the Games in April, subject to ratification from umbrella sports body SASCOC.
She, 2016 Olympian Julia Vincent, Micaela Bouter and Nicole Gillis all met the selection criteria in Durban last month.
Of the quartet Gundry goes the extra mile, or metres, in her case.
While the other three compete on the 1 and 3-metre boards, Gundry is a step above, well a good few steps, as she competes from 10m.
‘Overall, I was very pleased with how my competition dives went in my Durban trial. The week leading up to my trial, I mainly focused on feeling comfortable diving outside again after not having done so since July at the Italian Grand Prix event,’ she tells Team SA.
‘The morning that I competed, it was the windiest it had been that week, so that presented an extra challenge for me. As you can imagine, if it is windy on the ground, 10 metres up it is considerably windier. Although the wind can present a slight physical risk, it mainly acts as a mental obstacle to overcome.’
United States-based Gundry says that even after nine years of platform diving, being 10 metres up can still be scary.
‘And when there’s wind knocking you off balance you have to be very confident in yourself and your dives. The five dives I performed in my trial were very consistent, but I know there’s definitely room for improvement on my entries.
‘I was a little disappointed that a couple of my dives had not been as good as they had been in training this past week, but my consistency still ensured that I was able to reach the consideration score.’
Gundry went on to describe the differences, apart from the obvious height, in the different events.
‘The other main difference is that the platforms have no spring in them at all. So for springboard divers, a lot of training goes into working towards timing your jumps on the board and getting the most power out of the springboard so it can push your dives higher.
‘For platform, because there is no spring or movement, all power comes from the diver which is why it has to be so much higher.
‘Another big difference is the impact the water has on your body when you hit the water from 10m. Because it’s so much higher, you are travelling faster and hitting the water harder, so bad landings on the water can be much more painful.
‘While I think both springboard and platform requires lots of technical skill, platform has been much more consistent for me because there is less dependence on adapting to the board that you are diving from. I actually do train both springboard and platform, but I prefer platform because I find it less frustrating and 10m diving gives me an adrenaline rush.’
Adrenaline rush may be something of an understatement by the Duke University biology graduate and current laboratory technician based in Carolina, with the 10m platform being the equivalent of a three-story building.
‘Ironically I broke my collarbone diving from 3m but haven’t broken any bones from 10. I’ve had a few very bad smacks though that have resulted in winding me and very, very ugly bruises.
‘I’ve been very fortunate that I haven’t had any severe injuries but for the past four years I’ve worked with physios for shin splints, back spasms, tendinitis in my bicep and knees, and other general aches.’
One of the plus factors for Gundry though is that she doesn’t have to do as much as her 1 and 3m counterparts.
‘It’s easily achievable for the springboard divers to train each of their five or six dives up to five times in a training session but platform divers will typically max out at two or three of each dive in a session because it just hurts too much. Training for platform focuses more on training the lead-up dives on 3m and 5m rather than the actual dive on 10m.’
In terms of overcoming the fear factor she says it’s all a question of time and familiarisation.
’It was a slow progress of starting to train dives on the lower platform boards and when I got confident at a certain height I would move up to the next one. I think there is an age restriction on 10m for young divers (Group C which I think is 11-12 year olds and below cannot train or compete 10m) which is aimed towards getting younger divers comfortable on the lower safer boards before moving them to the 10m.
‘I started diving when I was 13/14 so that never applied to me but I think I dived for a year before I learned dives on 10m.
‘My coaches and more experienced divers were a huge part of helping me overcome fear as well. Having a strong relationship with a coach who wants to push you without pushing you too far and possibly endangering you is crucial so that the diver knows when the coach feels confident in the athlete that the athlete can trust the coach’s confidence in them.
‘The divers around me were able to give me tips from their experience which always helped too.’
Gundry relies on a variety of coaching, with her go-to in SA being Dominique Philippopoulos and outside of that, Chris Gravestock and Nunzio Esposto.
Often divers who are new to 10m worry about learning dives from that height as they’re scared of hurting themselves if something goes wrong.
Gundry, who hails from Zimbabwean born parents but was herself born in Johannesburg and has lived large periods in England and the US, says it was a dive from the maximum height that helped her overcome much of her fear.
‘After trying a new dive on 10m and landing flat on my back, I lost some of that fear because since that was the worst possible landing I could have had and it hadn’t done too much lasting damage, I was less scared of hurting myself trying new dives after that.
‘That being said, I still have days where I’m scared even being that high but then I remind myself I’ve done the dive before, my body will know what to do, and I count to three and go…’
Hopefully it will be all systems go for Gold Coast when the final Team SA line-up is announced in a few weeks time.
Pictures of Gundry in action courtesy of Dominique Philippopoulos