By Mark Etheridge
While eight South African swimmers qualified for the FINA World Championships in Hungary later this year, the country’s top divers were making their own ripping statement at the King’s Park venue.
Four women divers achieved qualifying standards, and all of them are currently United States-based – Jaimee Gundry, Julia Vincent, Micaela Bouter and Nicole Gillis.
Gundry won the women’s 10-metre platform, Vincent the 3m and 1m springboards, while Bouter and Gillis triumphed in the 3m synchronised category.
The divers were treated to a brand new 3m board back plate and fulcrum, thanks to Duraflex International, which provided them with the best equipment to achieve their best dives.
Leading local diving coach, and a referee at last year’s Rio Olympics, Dominique Philippopolous, says it was a great week of competition in Durban.
‘Much to the delight of the junior divers, the senior divers attending various universities in the States returned to participate. This led to an incredible week of competition, and many amazing dives were performed which reflected in some amazing diving scores.
‘Julia was awarded the highest scoring dive, achieving a remarkable 84.00 points for her reverse two and a half somersaults (305C) off the 1m board in the women’s 1m final. Jaimee continued to impress the divers and the swimmers as they all flocked to watch her perform off the 10m platform.
‘Nicole, who placed second on 1m and third on 3m, and Micaela, who placed third on 1m and second on 3m, combined to make an invincible 3m synchronised diving team, winning this event with ease.
‘These four girls were not only selected for the National Senior Squad, they also have all achieved the selection requirements for the FINA World Aquatic Championships to be held in Budapest Hungry in July this year.
‘With such inspiring diving, these girls inspired the junior divers to dream big and supported them all during their competitions. All looks promising for the future of diving in South Africa and we will certainly be sending our strongest team so far to the World Championships.’
Here’s what the four medal-winning divers had to say about their diving displays:
JULIA VINCENT (22 years old – University of South Carolina, pictured right)
‘I was happy with the way this meet went, but there’s always more work to be done so, after a few days off, I’ll be ready to get back to work. We’ve just finished our collegiate season, so competing at nationals can be difficult at times because I’m exhausted from the season ,but I do my best to keep my head in the right frame of mind. The most important thing to me at any meet I attend, is to make the changes my coach has asked me to make while adjusting to new boards, and to stick to what he has told me to do before each dive. I know that if I do that, my dives will usually go well. It’s not always easy to do, but I was able to do it at nationals and it led me to two personal bests and two gold medals. It can also be difficult coming from facilities in the US to the pools here in South Africa. It does take some time to adjust and to diving outdoors, but I really enjoyed being back diving in South Africa again, and I’m so proud of my teammates Micaela, Nicole and Jaimee as we all met the selection requirements to qualify for the World Championships.’
NICOLE GILLIS (21 – University of Arkansas, pictured right)
‘I’m very happy with my performance and results from nationals. I went into nationals with a different mindset this year and it worked. I came second on 1m, third on 3m and first in the synchronised event with my partner Micaela. I’ve been selected to be on the senior national squad in all three events and I qualified for the World Championships in the 1m and 3m synchronised events. I’m very excited to go and compete for my country in Budapest in July and can’t wait to gain more experience on the international circuit. Getting to represent my country with three other girls on the team is an incredible opportunity. I started diving when I was eight years old, so have been in the sport for 13 years. The mindset that I had for nationals this year was to be more confident in myself and my ability. I went in, knowing that I had trained hard leading up to Nationals and that my hard work would pay off as long as I continued to believe in myself. Overall, I was very happy with my performance. There are a few things that I took away from all the events, and I’ll continue to work on my confidence as well as focusing on not getting too nervous under pressure.’
MICAELA BOUTER (21 – University of Houston)
‘I loved coming back to compete in senior nationals this year. The diving community is small in SA, but passionate about the sport, and it was so nice to come back after a long NCAA season in the US and receive so much support and encouragement from all clubs and provinces. This year I saw so much improvement in all of us US-based divers. Competing in the 1m and 3m women’s competitions was a little stressful because if I made one little mistake, I would be out of contention for the gold medal. On 1m I left my third dive, reverse 1.5 somersaults pike, slightly short (under-rotated) for scores of 6.5s and it was enough to pull me down to third place, even though the rest of my list was good. On 3m I had a terrible Prelims, coming fourth with a score of 218. This was because I didn’t have my mental game on so early in the morning. After a good talk with my coach, my mind was better going into semi-finals and finals was my best competition of the day. I ended up second with a score of 295, a big improvement from the morning. Even though I didn’t end up taking gold, I was happy with the improvement I made through the day. I also achieved what I came to achieve: meeting all the qualifications for the World Championships. My synchro partner, Nicole [the two are pictured above], and I also ended up winning synchro and meeting the qualifications for that event too. Looking to the future, there are plans to compete in the Bolzano Grandprix (5-7 July ) and then World Championships. I’m so proud of Nicole and Julia who dove beautifully.’
JAIMEE GUNDRY (22 – Duke University, pictured above)
‘I had a really great experience at Nationals this year. This academic year marked my final season of representing my university, Duke University, at a collegiate level. After a long season that definitely had some ups and downs, I was very excited to come and compete in Durban in the hope of qualifying for the World Championships. My competition went very well, and I’m extremely happy with how my dives went. I’m also very excited to have achieved the set qualification score and feel re-energised to get back to training hard in the next few months. I can’t wait to see what the future holds.’
Main picture features (left to right) Gillis, Vincent and Bouter on the women’s 1m podium. All pictures courtesy of Dominique Philippopolous