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Diving dream team looks to London

20 May 2011

The NSWIS diving “dream team” has gold and silver Olympic medals in the trophy cabinet and eyes more at the London Olympic Games. Beijing superstar Matthew Mitcham, 2008 silver medallist Melissa Wu, cross-sport Olympian Alexandra Croak and Delhi Commonwealth Games bronze medallist Scott Robertson all train under the mastery of Salvador Sobrino at the New South Wales Institute of Sport (NSWIS).

"We’re all very close and we help each other with training to get the best out of each other," said Mitcham of the squad Robertson calls "the most fun, energetic and positive team" he has ever been a part of.

In 2008 Coach Sobrino prepared Mitcham on his epic journey to Beijing gold. Mitcham was just 15 months out of retirement but landed the first perfect ten in Olympic history in front of a Beijing crowd that had seen nothing but Chinese gold medals all competition.

“We kind of were expecting it but not in that fashion,” said Sobrino, alluding to the dramatic final dive.

If all goes to plan between now and July 2012, Mitcham will be steadying for a similar pressure-cooker showdown with British young star Tom Daley.

"He’s been flagged as the poster boy for the London Olympics so I actually feel like the pressure has lifted off me," Mitcham said, despite being the defending Olympic champion.

The other three divers Mitcham now calls his “tight knit little team” were all in the Water Cube for his Beijing final and it remains a moment they each use to motivate them.

Perhaps the spirit of the squad is best summed up by 23-year-old Scott Robertson who had spent time training and competing with Mitcham throughout his junior career. The pair even combined to win a synchronised gold medal at the 2005 Australian Youth Olympic Festival (see picture). 

Robertson easily rates Mitcham’s final dive at the Olympics as one of his proudest moments.

"When I look back at Beijing the best moment for me wasn't my own competition or me getting my team uniform... It was being there in the stadium and witnessing the person I trained with, the person I competed against and the person I had shared a lot of memories with growing up trounce the Chinese and win that gold medal!" he said.

Robertson’s own Olympic debut was bittersweet, battling with a broken bone in his wrist in the lead-up to the Games. Still, he describes his Olympic experience "like paying off every sacrifice I’d ever made growing up."

“In 2008 I really didn’t get to have the Olympic experience I’d always been dreaming of as a boy. I didn’t get to fully prepare myself in 2008 and London is a second chance that I get to do it my way,” he said.

Alexandra Croak, the former gymnast who took up diving at a relatively late 19-years-of-age, was Mitcham’s training partner leading into Beijing. Now she cannot help but wonder if she too can produce something special at the London Olympics in 2012.

“It just showed I do just as much work as him. Obviously our events are quite different but it really goes to show anything could happen on the day,” Croak said.

Since the 2008 Olympics Croak has sparked a synchronised diving combination with Melissa Wu, who won a silver medal in Beijing in the synchronised event with Briony Cole.

“It’s been so good to have such talented people to train with and obviously beginning synchronised training with Melissa Wu and kind of excelling in that event has brought us closer together and we’ve had  really good results so far,” Croak said.

Wu moved to Sydney to train with Sobrino and the NSWIS team in 2009 and sees herself as a more mature and experienced diver compared to Beijing.

“It’s really great to be able to train with athletes that are so motivating and such great divers. We really have a lot of fun training and travelling together,” Wu said of her NSWIS team.

"I’m looking forward to really soaking up the experience in London and getting even more out of it than I did in Beijing,” she said.

At training the inspired and inspiring foursome clap every impressive dive. The jokes and light-hearted attitude on pool deck gets them through the tough early morning and late night sessions.

It could just be the routine to deliver more gold in London.

Taya Conomos

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