High diving to make its debut at world swimming titles
When the sport makes its debut at the world swimming championships, there will be 14 men and five women taking on roles as superheroes
If Superman is known for leaping tall buildings in a single bound then the high divers who are about to show their sport to the world at the swimming world championships must also qualify for superhero status.
Rather than leaping buildings, they will be diving from them, or the equivalent at least.
High diving will make its entrance in the Fina competition next week with 14 men and five women jumping from 27 metre and 20m platforms, respectively, into Barcelona's harbour. That is the equivalent of a nine-storey building for the men and seven storeys for the women at speeds 160 km/h.
"That really is a lot of guts and courage, and a dash of insanity," USA Diving high-performance director Steve Foley said. "I can't wait. It's going to be fantastic.
"It's just another extension really of what high diving is all about. For a lot of years high diving has been in shows - jumping off roofs - and an entertainment factor. Now it has become a genuine event."
The participating athletes come from the Red Bull cliff-diving world series, which has been known to attract crowds of more than 70,000 to its most popular event in La Rochelle, France, each year.
Still, it wasn't expected when Fina moved quickly to approve high diving as a full medal event just five months ago.
"It was quite surprising. My initial reaction was, 'Wow, are we sure?'," said British Swimming chief executive David Sparkes. "But I've warmed to it. I've looked into it and I've talked to our colleagues from Red Bull.
"There's a good safety protocol around the whole thing and they've had a group of people who are really experienced in diving and safety looking at it. So fingers crossed nothing happens."
And if something does go wrong, organisers will be ready.
Just like on the Red Bull series, scuba divers and free divers will be waiting in the water when each diver jumps, and they will enter the water simultaneously with the athlete to make sure he or she gets back to the surface.
Still, the risk of injury is high, depending mostly on whether divers rotate too much or too little.
Due to the high speeds they reach, divers are required to enter the water feet first, optimally with their arms and hands by their sides.
"A few of the divers have been knocked unconscious because they under-rotated just enough to take a shot on the chin," American competitor Steven LoBue wrote in an email.
If the divers' legs part under the water after entry, that also could cause trouble.
"Even if your entry is completely vertical, the inner thigh muscles must be fit to avoid pulling/tearing the groin muscle," LoBue said. "The impact is so strong that it can contort your body underwater if you don't tighten your muscles at exactly the right time."
LoBue and fellow American competitor David Colturi were each injured during their first high diving competition.
"I over-rotated a dive and landed well past vertical and fractured my tailbone," LoBue said. "I still competed the next day but the next two months were pretty painful."
Colturi landed on his backside and his swimsuit ripped in half, leaving him in agony for weeks.
A former US national team diver, Colturi took his first dives from 20m working at a stunt show in Monticello, Indiana.
"My first take-off was just a straight jump, all the way down, something I would never do again because of the free-falling, stomach-in-your-throat effect, like riding a roller coaster," Colturi said.
"After that I started doing single somersaults, and harder tricks from there. I'm still scared every time I step on to a high-diving platform."
Young and old reign in Spain
Thomas Lurz chugged to another gold medal in open water, the sea no match for the old man and his powerful strokes, the Rio Olympics still very much in the realm of possibility. Si Yajie hurled herself off the 33-foot-tall tower, a waif of a teenager twisting and spinning against the magnificent backdrop of Barcelona, just the latest prodigy in China's diving empire.
It was a day for old and young at the world swimming championships.
The 33-year-old Lurz led Germany to a dominating victory in the 5-kilometre team competition, more than a minute ahead of the next team to finish. He remains a formidable force in this bruising sport, with the next Olympics just three years away. "I haven't thought of Rio that much," Lurz said. "I have to take care what I'm going to do after swimming. We will see what's going to happen these next few years. But I still feel good. As it stands now, I see no reason to stop. This is a great accomplishment."
The 14-year-old Si is just getting started. In her first major international competition, she edged two-time Olympic gold medalist and defending world champion Chen Ruolin on the 10-metre platform at Montjuic Municipal Pool.
The facility, located at the edge of a cliff that overlooks the sprawling city below, was the site of diving at the 1992 Olympics. How appropriate. Si looked as though she's on her way to going for gold at the 2016 Games, bouncing back from a slight wobble on her fourth dive to beat her countrywoman - one of the sport's biggest stars. "It doesn't feel much different," Si said through a translator, her voice barely above a whisper. "There's just a lot of foreign divers here."
Chen earned the silver, and no one else was even close. That's the way it goes in diving, where it is essentially the Chinese and everyone else. Si gave her country its sixth gold in seven events on the mountain. "We're so used to them beating the competition," said Britain's Sarah Barrow, who finished fourth. "It's pretty much the same every time."
Ditto for synchronised swimming. Russia made it five-for-five as Svetlana Romashina and Svetlana Kolesnichenko easily won the duet, adding to their victory in the duet technical. Jiang Tingting and Jiang Wenwen of China earned the silver, while Spain's Ona Carbonell and Margalida Crespi Jaume settled for bronze. Romashina has now won four golds in Barcelona and 14 in her world championship career. Russia is heavily favoured to take the final two synchro events and duplicate its sweep at the Shanghai worlds in 2011.
Lurz knows there will come a time when he has to get on with life after swimming. Yet the way things are going, he sees no need to trade his swimsuit for a business suit. The German team, which also included Christian Reichert and Isabelle Harle, completed two laps around the Barcelona harbour course in 52 minutes, 54.9 seconds. They went out fourth in the staggered start, four minutes behind Russia in the lead-off spot, but passed the Russians as well as New Zealand and Italy to touch ahead of everybody, giving Lurz his sixth career gold at worlds. Silver medalist Greece wasn't even close, taking second in 54:03.3.
Lurz won his third medal of these championships and first gold. If he needs any addition motivation for Rio, he has yet to win an Olympic gold, settling for bronze in Beijing and a silver in London. "It's great to win a race I've never won before," Lurz said. "Now this is something I have done in my career. I'm very proud of it."
Spyridon Gianniotis, Antonios Fokaidis and Kalliopi Araouzou took the silver, while the bronze went to the Brazilian team of Poliana Okimoto, Allan Do Carmo and Samuel De Bona. Gianniotis added to his gold in 10K, while Okimoto became a three-time medalist at these world championships. She won an individual gold in the 10K and a silver in the 5K. "We went fast," Gianniotis said. "We swam for our country with all the passion." Photo: Reuters.