Matthew Mitcham, the reigning Olympic champion diver with the highest-scoring dive in the sport's history, told an Australian newspaper today that he's terrified of diving in Fort Lauderdale. "Petrified," actually.
My own theory is that it's because Mitcham's coach seems prone to vivid descriptions of the worst-case scenario. Here's what he told Sydney's Daily Telegraph about the Fort Lauderdale Aquatic Complex near Las Olas and the beach:
"There are cases of divers who wiped out so badly they have gone, they left the pool and never dived again," said Chava Sobrino, Mitcham's personal coach at the NSW Institute of Sport.
"Last year, on the way to the Olympics, Matthew wanted to pull out of the competition in Fort Lauderdale, Floria, [sic] because he was scared to compete outdoors.
"He lost all the confidence, all the vision, the body awareness. He couldn't control that and he couldn't deal with it. But he did go through with the competition which he won."
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To hear Mitcham himself describe it, his isn't a phobia exactly. Rather, his diving style is to orient his body in midair according to some fixed object in an arena, whereas in Fort Lauderdale, there's only the distant horizon.
"I was petrified of diving outdoors in the first place," Mitcham told the Daily Telegraph after training at Homebush yesterday. "And in Fort Lauderdale, you really get all the elements. It's 100m from the beach, so you get coastal winds.
"Every time you do a somersault, you try to see the same thing, just so you get your orientation in the air. I rely quite heavily on spotting, whereas other divers rely heavily on just feeling, which has its bonuses.
"Those who rely on spotting sometimes have problems outdoors. Normally you would choose either the roof and the lights or you would choose the water. Some people choose the platform [to look at].
"As long as they see the same spot each time, they know when to kick out [of a tumble]."
If I were Mitcham's coach, I'd tell the kid to psych himself up for a Fort Lauderdale meet by watching the video below, of a less-elegant diver named Dana Kunze who nonetheless owns a pretty impressive world record of his own.