Jack Laugher defies niggling injuries to take diving to another level

After Olympic synchro gold and individual silver in 2016, British springboard diver picks up silver at FINA World Championships in Gwangju.

Jack Laugher is Britain's most successful Olympic diver.

Together with Chris Mears, the Yorkshireman won the country's first Olympic gold medal in diving in the synchro 3m springboard at Rio 2016.

Six days later, Laugher took silver in the individual event behind China's Cao Yuan.

The pair will do battle again for gold in both the synchro and individual at Tokyo 2020.

"China will obviously want to win all eight gold medals and they will be working really hard to make sure they don’t slip up, so it’s not going to be easy at all." - Jack Laugher speaking to the Yorkshire Post

Before that, they added a silver medal in the 3m springboard synchro at the 2019 FINA World Championships in Gwangju, South Korea. You can read our specific event preview here.

And not only is Laugher trying to win, he's trying to take the sport to another level in terms of the difficulty of his dives.

The story so far

China won seven out of eight diving golds at Rio 2016 with Laugher and Mears combining to take the other.

Mears is currently taking a year out from the sport but is expected to return in October to reform the title-winning duo.

In his absence, Laugher has teamed up with Tom Daley's former synchro platform partner Daniel Goodfellow.

While Goodfellow - who won bronze with Daley in Rio - has made a promising switch to the springboard, the pair have yet to fully click in the synchro.

Laugher's Rio rival Cao also has a new partner in the form of Xie Siyi.

The Chinese pair have been most impressive this season with their winning total of 469.08 at March's FINA World Series event in Beijing almost 15 points higher than Laugher and Mears' Rio 2016 tally.

Laugher and Goodfellow were down in seventh, although they looked set for the podium before scoring zero points for a nightmare final dive.

They have largely struggled to post scores in excess of 400 points this season, and their medal chances in Gwangju appear slim.

But in the individual, 24-year-old Laugher looks a genuine contender as he bids to complete a full set of major golds having already claimed Olympic, European and Commonwealth titles.

In Beijing, Laugher finished in third place a long way behind Cao and Xie.

World Series Beijing 3m springboard podium (L-R): runner-up Xie Siyi, winner Cao Yuan, third-placed Jack Laugher
World Series Beijing 3m springboard podium (L-R): runner-up Xie Siyi, winner Cao Yuan, third-placed Jack LaugherWorld Series Beijing 3m springboard podium (L-R): runner-up Xie Siyi, winner Cao Yuan, third-placed Jack Laugher

But in London in May, Laugher took victory with a huge total of 562.65.

He was just 10 points outside the world record set at Beijing 2008 by He Chong, with two of his six dives attracting scores of over 100 points.

On Twitter, he called his inward three-and-a-half somersaults scoring 100.30 "one of the proudest moments of my career to date".

And he told FINA.org that the world record is definitely within reach.

"The world record was on my mind leading into the final dive but I played it safe and left something in the tank for the World Championships. I’ll nail it there and hopefully that world record will be mine." - Jack Laugher speaking to FINA.org after just missing the world record in May

Pushing the boundaries

Diving scores are calculated by multiplying the total of the middle three from the seven judges' scores by the degree of difficulty.

As a result, there is a fine balance between attempting the toughest dives and striving for perfect execution.

Adam Smallwood has worked with Laugher for close to three years and was appointed High Performance Coach at British Diving's Leeds training centre in January.

Jack Laugher with coach Adam Smallwood at the 2017 World Series in Beijing
Jack Laugher with coach Adam Smallwood at the 2017 World Series in BeijingJack Laugher with coach Adam Smallwood at the 2017 World Series in Beijing

A former competitive diver himself, Smallwood is five years older than the Olympic champion but admits Laugher used to beat him when he was eight or nine.

He told Swim England, "Jack’s personal goal is to push the sport into another level, another realm.

"He already does the hardest list in the world but he wants to do dives that have never been done before." - British High Performance Coach Adam Smallwood on Jack Laugher

“To do that, he has stepped up his strength and conditioning programme and works more with our Russian gymnastics coach on his acrobatic skills."

Laugher's dedication to his craft is undoubted, but he also has some inherent advantages.

Smallwood added, “Physically, he is a bit of a freak of nature, an anomaly. His lower body is incredibly strong; he’s fast (fast-twitch) and when he gets to the pool, he is a natural.

"Back and reverse rotations are normally the hardest for divers because when you come out of your tuck shape or pike shape, you can’t see the water as it’s behind you. But the natural divers find it easy.

"Some have it, others don’t. As well as that, when it comes to competition, you have to be able to be on the board and deliver under the pressure – and Jack has done that from a young age."

Those physical attributes may have a downside with Laugher revealing that staying fit is one of his biggest challenges.

He told the Yorkshire Post, "Looking after the body is a lot harder than it used to be. It sounds silly but in just three years the injuries have come in much quicker than they used to.

"My knee is injured, my back is injured – it is little things here and there, not massive things.

"It is not like I need operations or surgery or anything but just having those constant slight injuries makes training a lot more difficult." - Jack Laugher speaking to the Yorkshire Post

Despite that, he is happy with how his preparations for Gwangju have gone.

"I'm diving well. I wouldn’t put it 'Best ever Jack Laugher' because this year has not been as easy as other years.

"But, overall, I am diving really well so I am really happy with how I am doing and I’m really looking forward to the World Championships."

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