Sheffield diver Freddie Woodward wants to make a splash at Tokyo Olympics in 2020

Freddie Woodward goes horizontal as he twists and turns in the mens 3m dive final at the British Gas Diving Championships

Freddie Woodward goes horizontal as he twists and turns in the mens 3m dive final at the British Gas Diving Championships

0
Have your say

For Freddie Woodward, his status as an Olympic athlete didn’t sink in on the plane to Rio, the opening ceremony or even on the 3m diving board as he prepared to represent Great Britain.

“It actually hit me about two months after I came home, bizarrely,” the City of Sheffield diver revealed.

“I was driving in my car and all of a sudden, I just burst into tears. The enormity and severity of what I’d achieved had just sunk in. I’d gone from the stage of not particularly thinking I’d make Rio, to thinking how much I couldn’t miss out on it.

“A year ago, I’d have given myself between five and 10 per cent chance of making it because of all the hoops I had to jump through. Sitting here now, it’s unbelievable to think I am an Olympian but at the same time, imagining my life without having experienced that is terrifying, too.”

The 21-year-old certainly didn’t let the occasion faze him, and a total of 388.15 at the Maria Lenk Aquatics Centre looked good enough to secure a place in the final - and a shot at a medal - before Russia’s Ilia Zakharov, who won the event four years ago in London, edged him out. The Sheffielder missed a final spot by one place.

“Still, Rio was incredibly special,” Woodward, a bronze medallist at the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow, added.

“The thing that struck me most was seeing every single body type imaginable. There’s gymnasts at 4ft 5in, seven-foot basketball players, weightlifters shovelling all the food they can and everything in between.

“It was fascinating. I remember being sat three tables away from Usain Bolt in the canteen; walking back to the apartment past the tennis courts, Novak Djokovic was on there practicing. I remember watching it happen and wondering if it was real.

“There were some issues with the Games, like the green water in the pool, but I had a great time. The conditions were the hardest I’ve ever experienced - when you jumped on the board, you could feel the wind move you - and the water was heavy because of all the stuff they’d chucked in it to try and clean it out.

“I was just so thrilled to be there, I wanted to have the best time possible and take the most out of it. At the same time, I didn’t want to pretend it was something it wasn’t. It was the Olympic Games, after all.”

City Of Sheffield Diving Club's Freddie Woodward smiles and clenches his fist during the mens 3m dive final

City Of Sheffield Diving Club's Freddie Woodward smiles and clenches his fist during the mens 3m dive final

And for Woodward, the culmination - so far, at least - of years of hard work and what must surely amount to thousands of hours in the pool at Ponds Forge, where we meet after one particularly gruelling day of training.

Supremely confident for someone still so relatively young, Woodward admits he is naturally reluctant to shout about his considerable achievements in the pool and his Team GB tracksuit is the only real hint that he has achieved what many of the young divers around him would give anything to do.

Many will have followed his own steps into diving at a young age. He half-jokes that diving found him, rather than the other way round, after he was talent-spotted as a child at Dobcroft Primary School in Millhouses.

“We were in year three, and our teacher told us about a talent identification programme in the sports hall at 12 - and if they liked us, we’d get a letter,” Woodward remembers.

I’m not a big believer in fate - I know some do, and it doesn’t particularly do it for me - but I think it’s fascinating that I just wanted to do it. I enjoyed it but it was never recreational for me, it was always about seeing how far up the ladder I could go.

Freddie Woodward

“I couldn’t kick a football to save my life, I’d done a bit of trampolining and thought about gymnastics but they weren’t looking like being the answer.

“Maybe it was my competitive nature, but I knew I wanted that letter. I had no idea if I liked diving, or if I ever would, and I didn’t philosophically analyse it and see my path to the Olympics mapped out or anything like that.

“I’m not a big believer in fate - I know some do, and it doesn’t particularly do it for me - but I think it’s fascinating that I just wanted to do it. I enjoyed it but it was never recreational for me, it was always about seeing how far up the ladder I could go.

“I was quickly doing four or five sessions per week at age eight - Ponds Forge became my second home - and that was fine by me.”

But it was a workload which eventually took its toll, and Woodward admits he may never do a training session again in his career at full fitness.

“It’s funny to look back and think how easy it would have been to let it slip,” Woodward admits.

Diver Freddie Woodward at Ponds Forge

Diver Freddie Woodward at Ponds Forge

“I thought about quitting multiple times. Any sport is hard, but it’s probably amplified in diving. It’s terrifying, and it hurts. It’s hard on your body and, like it or not, I am prone to injuries by doing it.

“It’s heartbreaking being injured, watching someone else do what you love to do while you’re in crutches or in a cast, but that comes with the territory. It’s so physically demanding, I’ll never do a session where I’m not hurting a bit somewhere.

“I still feel strong but my shin might niggle, or I’ll hit the water slightly wrong and pull my shoulder, or I’ll overreach and my back starts shouting at me.

“I don’t know what impact it’ll have on my future self, but sitting here now, it’s worth it.”

“I had a two-year period where I didn’t dive at all; I had a stress fracture in my pelvis, came back and broke my wrist diving off the 10m, board, then broke my foot hitting a board, I was hospitalised with appendicitis, the broke my wrist playing basketball and went back to hospital with a bacterial infection in my sinuses. It was non-stop.”

As has been life, post-Rio. Woodward, with one eye on the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo, is throwing himself - quite literally - into training on some more difficult dives and working hard on both strength and technique.

Michelle, his girlfriend who he met at an Omega party in Brazil, is coming over to visit Sheffield - “the Rio of the Northern Hemisphere,” smiles Woodward - very shortly when he returns from competing this weekend in the British National Cup, where he won two gold medals last year.

“Stuff like the Olympics is a huge boost, but it’s not everything. If I didn’t enjoy diving, I wouldn’t do it,” Woodward said.

“The Olympics gives you a confidence - I tend to undersell myself rather than bragging - and it reassures you. You think, ‘if I went there then I must be doing something right’.

“I’ve dreamed about one since I was seven, and I’ll do all I can to get to Tokyo and challenge for one, but an Olympic gold isn’t worth sacrificing happiness, I don’t think.

“There are still days when I don’t want to get out of bed - that’ll never go away - but I just want to be the best diver I can possibly be.”

Woodward says Ponds Forge is like his second home

Woodward says Ponds Forge is like his second home