One day after her historic performance, Tanya Watson was in the stands of the Tokyo Aquatics Centre this Wednesday morning supporting her teammate Oliver Dingley, trying to get his Olympic qualification in the men’s 3m springboard (he eventually made it, finishing the preliminaries in the 15th position). This is not a new story for Dingley, but it is an absolute premiere for Watson and for any female diver from Ireland.
After ranking 16th in the heats of the women’s 10m platform, Watson is making history for her nation and reaches the pinnacle so far in a career that started almost by accident. “When I was a kid, I used to do gymnastics and someone from my club in Southampton (England) came to my school to see if someone wanted to try diving. As I was pretty flexible from gymnastics, they invited me for a test and I liked it a lot. Also, I was not enjoying gymnastics the way I should, so diving came in a right moment for me”, she recalls.
“When I was about 13, one of the judges that is here, Lindsey Fraser (from Great Britain), after watching me doing a small competition in Southampton came to me and told she wanted me in her group. Only then, I realised I had some potential to continue further”, she explains. “When I arrived there, I couldn’t rip very well, so that was one of the basics I had to acquire from the beginning. If you aim at being a good diver, your entries must be neat. After that, in a space of one year and a half, she took me to a junior and senior championships and that boosted my confidence and motivation”.
Tanya Watson is making the history for Ireland🇮🇪— FINA (@fina1908) May 5, 2021
She is the first Irish female diver in history to qualify for the Olympic Games. Well done!
Full story: https://t.co/F3UHHdr3Gk#diving #DWC2021 @swimireland pic.twitter.com/MLtE0fIOxZ
Another turning point in the trajectory of the young Watson was the 2012 Olympics in London, just two hours away from Southampton. Watching the women’s 3m springboard prelims at the Aquatics Centre, the Irish star was definitively convinced that diving was meant to be her future. “All my doubts vanished from the moment I had this experience!”
Specialising in 10m platform, she laughs when asked how the choice was made. “When I was still very young, my dad wrote a letter to the club asking for me not to jump from the 10m because I was coming home and complaining all the time. I don’t really know what led me to the platform, because I quite liked the springboard, but it happened and I am obviously quite happy with it!”
Born on the Christmas Eve (December 24) in 2001, she was 17 when she travelled to Buenos Aires to take pate in the Youth Olympic Games, where she was fifth in the 10m platform. At the 2019 Worlds in Gwangju she was only 29th in that event, but performed quite consistently that year in the Grand Prix meets in Calgary (CAN) and Rostock (GER). In 2020, she still had time to compete in Rostock and in Madrid (ESP), but then came the COVID-19 pandemic and the successive lockdowns around the world, and also in England, where she was born and raised in Southampton.
“It was really challenging! I was lucky I could sometimes move to the National Sports Centre in Dublin, when the situation was more complicated in England. Before this World Cup, I was training in Ireland since the end of January, so I managed to be in good shape. Also, with the postponement of the Olympics, I could defer my entry in the university for one year, which allowed me to fully concentrate on the Games’ preparation. Arrived here in Tokyo, I wanted to make sure I was emotionally calm, as I find sometimes the competitions quite stressful. But I couldn’t avoid being very nervous the last four days before competing. The food was great, but I couldn’t eat anything. I wanted to do the best on the day, and that happened. Despite some inconsistencies during my programme, I had learnt to take one dive at a time, so I was able to never lose my focus”, she considers.
Competing in one of her “favourite pools so far”, Watson especially likes the “black, nice cover on the board”. On the conditions encountered in the Japanese capital, she is clear: “Having being so much time in lockdown, that clearly helped me a lot. I brought things to do, for example painting. I am a very extroverted person, so I gain energy by being with other people. Here, it’s quite hard, you are alone in your room. So I make sure I leave the hotel at least once a day to watch the events or to train; I have made my own daily routine. I do feel safe though, but I desperately need a window than can open in my room… I was worried with what could happen here, but with all the measures, the COVID tests, we do feel safe”.
Still “digesting” her qualification for the Games, she recognises that “history was made”, and hopes her example can stimulate further development of diving in Ireland. “There aren’t loads of divers in Ireland, but the people find it interesting to watch. When Oliver [Dingley, eighth in the 3m in Rio 2016] did really well in Brazil, it gave diving a real boost. He got recognised in the street, so the people are much more aware for this sport now. With me, I hope it can lead to more facilities and even more recognition in the future”.
Finally, on her Olympic goals, she recognises that the “most difficult part of it – getting there – is done”. However, she hopes not to fail when the Games are on. “I want to continue enjoying what I am doing. Secondly, I would like to be able to put myself up if something wrong occurs – to always have that necessary mental strength!”.
For the time being, after being 16th in the preliminaries, Watson concluded her participation at the World Cup, with a 14th place in the semis of the 10m platform.