Opinion | Flipping onto the podium


Jacob Hutchinson, sports editor

Chapman’s swim and dive teams have had exceptional seasons. In the conference championships, both men’s and women’s teams scored their highest-ever finishes and set 17 new school records. Three divers qualified for and competed in the NCAA Regional Championships this weekend.

I have never attempted any dive more complicated than a cannonball. Trying to create as big a splash as humanly possible is right in my wheelhouse – anything else is a disaster waiting to happen.

In fact, I’ve never liked to swim. If I can’t stand or sit in something floating atop the water, it’s a hard pass for me.

Maybe it’s my personal disdain for water-based activities that makes every competent diver seem like a Greek god or goddess to me, or maybe it’s the uniqueness of what they do.

As a sport, diving has never made sense to me. These merpeople willingly hurtle themselves into the water headfirst like elegant kamikazes. Meanwhile, most people can’t take a dive off a ground-level diving board without belly flopping.

Yet these athletes willingly and repeatedly climb up three to 10 feet and jump. In one fell swoop, they perform feats of athleticism that combine the strength of a champion weightlifter with the technique and grace of ballet dancer.

It’s like watching that brief second of a gymnastics vault, where a massive amount of energy is carefully compacted into a graceful windmill of body. Except in diving, there’s the added aesthetic quality that comes when the diver plunges into the deep and simultaneously tries to avoid leaving evidence they ever touched the water.

But despite its visual appeal, diving isn’t the easiest sport to follow. Even after many years of TV commentators for the Olympics pointing out the size of splashes and form errors in slow motion, I couldn’t tell you what differentiates a good dive from a great one in real time.

That’s something that’s up to judges to decide, and it’s hard to say what their preferences are. It’s also tough to imagine they catch every inch of every dive while watching live, so there must be at least a little bit of guessing involved.

At least with swimming competitions, there’s a clear victor. It can get complicated with the sheer number of events in a meet, but you at least know that whoever finishes first is the winner.

With diving, it’s all about judgment.

It’s fascinating how, after watching events in the Olympics for all of two minutes, viewers are comfortable saying, “Oh, she almost had it right there, but did you see that splash? That’s definitely going to be a deduction.”

It’s always fun to criticize something you’ll never be able to accomplish. We take these near-perfect demonstrations of athletic excellence down to the most minute fraction, and decide whether they were good or bad.

That’s what makes the accomplishments of these divers so impressive. Diving is a highly specific sport that takes immense athletic ability and a zen-like focus to even be decent at, and Chapman’s divers have far exceeded that level.

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