Sheffield's top diving club deserves more backing as home of future Olympians, says Freddie Woodward
It boasts an enviable record of sending a diver to every Olympic Games since its move to Ponds Forge in the early 1990s, and Freddie Woodward reckons it is time the City of Sheffield Diving Club got the recognition it deserves.
“It’s an unbelievable stat, really,” Freddie, who kept the record up when he qualified for the 2016 Rio Olympics, told The Telegraph.
“And it should attract a bit of attention. The club’s had to establish itself as a business because we don’t have a Tom Daley or Jack Laugher diving here, so we don’t get as much from British Diving.
“They do contribute a tiny amount to the salary of my coach, Tom Owens, but don’t really offer any other support to the club financially.
“The council had to withdraw their funding too in the age of Tory austerity, and that could potentially have crippled the club after 2012.”
The year of the London Olympic Games. Some legacy, right? But Woodward’s words are borne out of pride, rather than anger, in a club which can trace its history back to the early 1980s, at its former home of Sheaf Valley Baths.
It relocated to Ponds Forge when the centre replaced the Sheaf baths, and has provided Team GB with a diver for every Olympics since Barcelona 1992.
“Going to Rio was huge for the club, because they really wanted to keep that run going,” Woodward added.
“It was also the most uncertain it’s ever looked! But I made it [he missed out on a spot in the 3m springboard final by one place] and the fact I could do that for the club made me very proud.
“I know the people at the club were proud of me for it, too. But to be honest, I’m lucky to have a place like this to train, to have a coach who puts in as much effort as he does, and to have the teammates I do.
“If I didn’t live in Sheffield... there aren’t many high-performance diving centres around the country. It is getting a little bit old now and isn’t the most up-to-date diving pool in the country, but having trained here from a young age, it’s still special.
“I wouldn’t be here without these facilities and the diving club. It’s still managing to produce lots of amazing talent, and there are people biting away at my heels so the next few years, leading up to Tokyo 2020, will be interesting.”
Woodward’s journey to the Olympic Games began as a seven-year-old in year three at Dobcroft Primary School, when he was talent-spotted by the diving club and invited to join.
“Ponds is pretty much my second home,” 21-year-old Woodward smiles.
“I remember the days in school, taking a bag for work and one for training, leaving school and getting the 80a bus into town. Training between four and seven, bus back home, tea about eight, bit of homework and off to bed... the sad thing is that you start to envy people who can play Xbox or watch TV, because you couldn’t.
“It’s funny to look back and think how easy it would have been to let it slip, and 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.”
For more information on City of Sheffield Diving Club, or to help through sponsorship, visit www.cityofsheffielddiving.co.uk.