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'Everyone's going through a lot right now. I'm lucky I can just launch myself off a diving board each day'

Oliver Dingley has learned to be kind to himself, taking lockdown in his stride as he targets the Tokyo Olympics.

Oliver Dingley, pictured following the launch of the Olympic Federation of Ireland’s new Olympic Schools Challenge, ‘Road to Tokyo’.
Oliver Dingley, pictured following the launch of the Olympic Federation of Ireland’s new Olympic Schools Challenge, ‘Road to Tokyo’.
Image: Sam Barnes/SPORTSFILE

“I’M GRAND, THANK you, how are you?,” Oliver Dingley smiles, the Harrogate native fully immersed in Ireland by now.

His colloquialisms, his mannerisms, and his pride in representing the country: he’s certainly an Irish athlete. His Yorkshire accent is the only thing that might suggest otherwise.

“Apart from an accent, it is the absolute world to me,” as goalkeeper Grace Moloney recently said when asked about what it means to wear the green jersey. Rio 2016 Olympian Dingley can certainly attest, having spoken about it at length in the past.

Dublin has been home for seven years now, the diver based near the National Sports Campus in the western suburbs of the capital. “I actually can see the National Aquatic Centre for my bedroom window,” he notes. “I have a fairly short commute, it’s great.”

If that’s not motivation waking up in the morning and seeing it, what else is?

“I can’t get away from the place,” Dingley laughs. “No, in all honesty, it’s nice to get out the house and go somewhere, and be lucky enough to do that as well.”

His positive attitude is striking, as is his sense of appreciation and gratitude for the position he’s in. Especially right now, amidst the Covid-19 pandemic.

The 28-year-old should actually be in Tokyo at the minute, ready to rock at an Olympic qualifying event in the shape of the Fina Diving World Cup. It was called off late on due to Covid concerns, and Dingley had no complaints when we spoke last week. And that was the same for last summer’s Games postponement. Safety first.

The qualifying event has since been rescheduled for 1-6 May, with all focus on booking his ticket to Tokyo there.

“For me, it’s all about getting myself inside that top 18 and safely through to the Olympics,” Dingley tells The42.

“I felt like I was in really good shape going into to what would have been the trials, but, having said that, I’m still in good shape and mentally, I’m feeling quite good as well. I haven’t been too upset about the cancellation.

“If anything, one thing the lockdowns have taught me is to be patient and to just bide my time and things will happen, it just might take a longer way to get there. Overall, I haven’t been too disappointed about it. If anything, just excited and most of all, I feel like it just gives me a bit more time to get better.”

The last year has been far from ideal, particularly given the sport Dingley pursues, completely out of the water for a period.

But again, he counts his blessings. Lockdown 2.0 and 3.0 were much closer to normal life.

“There’s so many people right now who who aren’t able to go about their daily jobs as they usually would,” he nods.

“I’ve seen it from my own view, from family members and close friends who have had hard times with work and Covid and I’ve been really, really lucky that I’m in the fortunate position that I’ve been able to carry on training through the last two lockdowns.

“The first lockdown, it was always going to be tricky but I learned just to be kind to myself, if anything, and not get too uptight with myself if I found myself letting myself go.

“I came back probably a lot better for it as well and into the second lockdown then when we were able to train, it really made you appreciate how lucky we are that we’re able to carry on doing our sport, which is also a nice outlet as well, getting away from the house and going about your daily chores.”

oliver-dingley Dingley diving at Rio 2016. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Diverting from his own sporting commitments is important too, with reaching out to old friends — “just chatting to people can really brighten someone’s day, and it can really brighten your own day,” he beams — watching football on TV, and distracting himself with Lego — “those anxious feelings are always there, and it’s nice to sometimes just switch off from it and not get too caught up in it” — proving helpful, especially at the weekends.

“It really taught me to be kind to myself,” he re-iterates. “Everyone’s going through a lot right now. I’m lucky I can just launch myself off a diving board each day! I guess that is normal for me.”

That’s all he’s known since he instantly fell in love with diving as a kid.

A sporting all-rounder, Dingley played youth football for Middlesborough, among much more, but once he found diving, he never looked back.

“I was always just a bit of a wild child really, launching myself of anything so diving was a natural route forwards,” he laughs, mapping his journey. “I was actually grounded at the time, and I had to go watch my brother’s swimming lesson as punishment.

“Well, it turned out my Dad was just as bored as me and the diving pool was open to the public, so we went for a dive and I absolutely loved it. It’s a sport has been in my life now for over 20 years.

“I guess this year more than other, I’ve really appreciated having it in my life, and being involved in that sporting community. It’s an absolutely fantastic sport, and it’s one I just instantly loved.”

It was the outlet that really appealed to him, and he was pleased to find himself “fairly alright at it” having enrolled in the local diving club in Harrogate. He stops for a second to take stock, adding:

“I never, for one moment, would ever have thought that I’d gone to an Olympics, let alone get to compete in an Olympic final. It’s been a crazy journey, and I’ve been very lucky. I’ve been to all corners of the world with it. This year has definitely put a lot of things into perspective, how lucky I’ve been as well.”

Representing Ireland at Rio 2016, becoming the country’s first Olympic diver in 68 years, is something he has thought about quite a lot over the last while.

Just how amazing it was to walk in the footsteps of Dubliner Eddie Heron, who did so in 1948. The entire experience was “absolutely phenomenal,” he explains.

“Moments that you dream of, and you never expect to get but I found myself there. I loved the whole Olympic experience. There weren’t any other divers from the Irish team so I was left to my own devices for a lot of it. I’d sit in the food hall, which is like an airplane hangar a lot of the time, and just chat to anyone who who would listen to me, I’d go out and watch loads of different events. By the time it came to competing, I was certainly ready because I think I’d already been there for about 15 days.

“The most amazing experience: to make it into an Olympic final and get to dive outside under the floodlights in a packed-out arena, to stand there on a diving board, it was a very surreal moment and and one I hope to replicate, and and also do better, in the upcoming Olympics.”

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This time last year, Dingley hadn’t watched the ’16 final back, but he’s since got his hands on some footage and phone recordings. “Quite goosebumpy, really, watching that back,” he smiles.

“I hate watching myself back a lot of time because I just think I look so scruffy in the air – everyone’s critical of themselves, but one thing I do always notice is how much it looked like I was enjoying it.”

oliver-dingley Dingley at the 2019 LEN European Diving Championships. Source: Giorgio Scala/INPHO

And that’s the main thing. That’s what it’s all about. He remembers those moments and that atmosphere vividly, and it’s something he looks back on fondly. And something he certainly hopes to repeat.

“It’s insane. So lucky to be able to go out there and be a part of that Irish team. In a small sport like diving, it’s great to be a part of that. This time round, we’re hoping to have four divers go to the Olympic games, including myself.

“The team’s really progressed since then. We had a really good diving foundation in Ireland for many years and it’s only getting better. It’s great to be a part of that — and I think that was one of the great things after Rio, the interest in diving, and the amount of people who probably wouldn’t have seen the sport in general wanting to then get involved in it.”

Anything can happen at the Olympics, Dingley warns. One must certainly expect the unexpected.

For example, the diving pool turned green in Rio — something he had never seen before — while he was handed a rare re-dive in the semi-final after somebody screamed during his first. And then there’s the whole added layer of Covid-19, and the different experience it will bring.

But he’s ready.

“Really, I just take it back to normal and one day at a time,” he concludes, “and when I get on the diving board, it’s just one dive at a time.

I try not to get too far ahead of myself and try not to get too hung up on dives if they haven’t gone too well or if they’ve gone really well and getting too hyped from it.

“Just taking it one step at a time and you know, just enjoying the experience.”

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Olympian, Oliver Dingley, pictured following the launch of the Olympic Federation of Ireland’s new Olympic Schools Challenge, ‘Road to Tokyo’. You can find out more here: https://www.daretobelieve.ie/roadtotokyo

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Emma Duffy

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