Oliver Dingley finishes in eighth to round-off stunning 24 hours
For three rounds in he cast a spell and then it broke - like seeing magic dust disappearing
Ireland’s Oliver Dingley in action during Tuesday night’s final. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho
Ah, Olympic glory and madness: a balmy night at the diving pool, Bowie on the loudspeaker and hanging in the chlorinated air, the possibility of one of the most fabulous Irish Olympic stories of all.
But in a stunning twenty-four hour period, he had bolder history in mind as he moved from the preliminaries, got through the morning semi-finals with a nerveless final dive and, in front of an amped-up local crowd, on Tuesday threatened to deliver a Billy Elliot story for Olympic diving.
The Olympic champion had fallen. The world champion had crashed out. Yet for half of this Olympic three metre springboard final, Ireland’s Oliver Dingley was in the running for a medal. That alone sets him apart as one of Ireland’s more remarkable Olympians.
“I’ve qualified for the world series next year so now I’m part of the elite people in diving,” Dingley said on Monday night with a clear note of justified pride in his voice.
“For me, that is amazing and to get an Irish record as well: I couldn’t be prouder right now.”
For three rounds, he cast a spell and then it broke. Dingley looked slightly tentative on the board as he prepared for his fourth five a back two and a half somersault pike and although he completed it cleanly and managed to straighten, the judging panel awarded him 69 points, a stark fall from his previous three dives which had been scored 74.4, 81.6 and 76.5 respectively.
The deduction was enough to see him plummet to eight in the overall leader board. Before that jump, Dingley had been just 0.2 of a point outside the third placing.
“I don’t look at the scoreboard. That is when it starts to go wrong. But I think I can give an even better performance. I just need to polish up on a few dives. Especially those middle round dives and I just need to add a degree of difficulty into my list.
“I feel like I’m strong enough now and I have a great support team back home. I hope that performance...some kids, maybe even a few might come to poolside and start diving. You never know: you might get the next Irish Olympic champion coming onto poolside.”
Few sports punish one mistake as elaborately and mercilessly as diving. Mexico’s Rommel Pacheo had come into this final after a dazzling repertoire of dives which had set him out as a likely medallist.
But he flamed out in his very first dive here and was out of the running after that. It was Britain’s Jack Laugher and Dingley, the Harrogate raised athlete, who exploited the void left by Pacheo.
China’s Yuan Cao remained peerless throughout the six dives, bold in his range of difficulty and performances and flawless in his execution. It was clear from Monday’s preliminaries that unless Cao suffered a catastrophic error, gold would most likely be his.
When Dingley re-appeared on the board for his fifth dive, he needed something exceptional to revitalise his medal challenge. The two and half somersault pike was greeted with a further reduction in his point total, 61.5.
For the small, fiercely voluble Irish support, it was like seeing magic dust disappear from the night. It seemed in keeping with the baffling, schizophrenic nature of Ireland’s Olympics story that what seemed like a novel side story- a Yorkshire man diving at three-metre springboard for Ireland - came tantalisingly close to historic achievement.
In the boxing ring, where Ireland had hoped to do well, there came nothing but controversy and misery. On Tuesday afternoon, Annalise Murphy’s spellbinding sailing performance confirmed, following on from the O’Donovan’s immortal row, a remarkable Irish Olympics on the water.
Now Dingley entered the mix. That fifth round dive consolidated his position at 8th but left him a distant fifty points out of the medal reckoning.
Dingley’s grandmother grew up near Spike Ireland in Cork and he had the classic English-Irish north of England upbringing. But it was the acute disappointment of being left off Britain’s diving team four years ago that prompted him to declare for Ireland.
He couldn’t bring himself to watch the event four years ago but his performances in Rio may have made his former coaches wish they had pursued him a little more diligently.
He bowed out with a back two and a half somersault, one and a half twist pike and executed it perfectly, scoring 79.9. Little wonder that the BBC commentators, while celebrating Laugher’s overall second place, were happy to reclaim Dingley at every opportunity.
There is no doubt that Ireland has been lucky to benefit from a fully-formed diver. As Dingley twisted and sculpted his way through the air last night, it became apparent for the first time just how lucky.
“There is still plenty of chasing to be done. Tokyo is the main goal and we will see where we go from there. But the first Olympic games...to make the final...”