Jack Laugher collected his third medal at the 2022 Commonwealth Games on Saturday, but it wasn’t gold. The two-time Olympic medalist in 3m was so nervous in prelims that he almost missed the final cut. He ended up third in an all-England sweep led by Daniel Goodfellow, his 2020 Olympic synchro partner.
On a wild Saturday at the Commonwealth Games, England added five diving medals for a total of 12 (of the 24) awarded so far. The men picked up three in the 3m final, and the women added two more in the 10m synchro event during an electric and suspenseful night at the Sandwell Aquatics Center.
Men’s 3m Final
Perhaps the biggest story of the day came out of the men’s 3m qualifying round when Jack Laugher – already the winner of two gold medals here – nearly failed to make it out of the qualifying round. His first dive was supposed to be a forward 2½ with 2 twists. Inexplicably, he did a forward 3½ in pike position – and received zero points. The forward 3½ pike wasn’t even on his list. Later in prelims, he scored uncharacteristically low on his third and fourth dives (51.00 and 55.80) – which were some of his easiest ones.
"I was a bit nervous and basically just doubted myself," Laugher explained to BBC Sport afterwards. "When you do the twist dive you've got to release the legs into the twist. I had passed the point of being able to do that and did a different dive. Once you've failed your first dive, emotion plays into it a lot and you start wanting it a bit too much.” He planned to take a nap and re-set for the final seven hours later.
In the evening’s final, England swept the podium in a highly-compelling contest. Laugher was forced to dive early in the lineup because the finalists performed in the reverse order of their qualifying finish. He was leading through four dives but over-rotated his penultimate dive, a forward 4½, leaving the door wide open for two of his compatriots as well as Li Shixin of Australia who, like Laugher, was also vying for his third Commonwealth medal in Birmingham.
The sixth/final round proved to be decisive. Laugher saved his biggest dive for last (a forward 2½ with 3 twists, 3.9 difficulty) and moved up from fourth place. Five divers later, Jordan Houlden, who had the same dive list as Laugher (in a different order) overtook the defending champion by 2.85 points on his forward 4½.
But Daniel Goodfellow (Laugher’s 2020 Olympic partner in 3m synchro) nailed his back 3½ (scoring 86.40) to push past them both and win with a total of 484.45 points, 19.3 points ahead of Houlden – largely thanks to Goodfellow’s fourth dive, which scored an event-high 91.65. Laugher claimed bronze with 462.30.
"I'm really chuffed for myself and the people back home,” Goodfellow said. “I'm really happy because I've branched away from doing synchro. Doing individual now, it's me taking responsibility for my own diving.
As for the all-England sweep, Goodfellow said, “I can't remember the last time there was an England 1-2-3 in diving at the Commonwealth Games. We’re all Yorkshire-based lads. I'm from Leeds, Jordan's from Sheffield. Jack's from Leeds as well. We must be doing something right."
Li, the top qualifier thus the final diver, saved his hardest dive for last but came up short and placed fifth, behind the English trio and Scotland’s James Heatly.
To have Team GB athletes take all four spots, Laugher said, is partly due to "the amount of funding that has been pumped in. The National Lottery has done a huge thing for us because now we can train full time. We have a kind of salary. If I had to be an accountant from nine to five, there is no way I'd be able to do what I've done.”
Also, Laugher added, “success has bred more success. I think British diving is in a very strong place.”
Women’s 3m Synchro Final
Maddison Keeney and Anabelle Smith were unshakeable in Saturday’s women’s 3m synchro event. The Australian duo led from start to finish and was the only team score over 300 points in the five-round, five-team final.
"Maddi and I have been together for [eight years] but never won a Commonwealth gold medal,” Smith said. “We had an upsetting Gold Coast campaign in synchro [in 2018, placing seventh of seven teams], so it felt good to get that one back today."
"It was my fault at the Gold Coast,” Keeney added. “It was really hard to process. This feels like a culmination of what I've learned as a diver. I've struggled a lot with nerves in the past. It was the redemption arc."
Asked what’s next now that the pair has collected medals from the Olympics (2016 bronze), world championships (2022 bronze) and Commonwealth Games, Smith replied with a laugh, "World domination!”
Yan Ng and Nur Sabri took silver for Malaysia, 16.68 points behind the winners. Sabri would return to compete in the 10m synchro final later in the day, placing fourth.
Vallee described her and Erlam’s synchro performance as “one of our best lists we’ve done together. I’m really hoping to keep it going tomorrow on the 3m individual. I've got high hopes for that one as well. Right now I’m just excited about the synchro and thinking about what it holds for the future, in Paris” at the 2024 Olympics.
The young British team of Desharne Bent-Ashmeil, 17, and Amy Rollinson, 18, finished a distant fourth for the host nation. It was first diving event at the 2022 Commonwealth Games that didn’t include England on the podium.
Women’s 10m Synchro Final
Inconsistency ruled the day in the women’s 10meter synchro final. Six pairs performed the exact same dives, in a different order. The only pair that didn’t waver significantly was Australia’s 14-year-old Charli Petrov and her 30-year-old partner Melissa Wu. The Aussies led after each of the five rounds and claimed gold with 306.00 points.
England took silver and bronze after capitalizing on mistakes by rest of the field.
Andrea Spendolini Sirieix (Thursday’s 10m individual gold medalist) and her partner, Eden Cheng, took silver for the host nation with 298.86 points despite being in last place after three dives.
Their countrywomen Robyn Birch and Emily Martin took the bronze, edging out Malaysia’s 2022 FINA World Championship bronze medalists Pandelela Pamg and Nur Sabri by less than one point.
What to Watch on Sunday
On Sunday, five of the six medalists from the men’s 10m synchro event will battle each other for individual medals other in the men’s 10m final. Ones to watch include Matty Lee and Noah Williams of England, as well as their countryman Matthew Dixon who took the 2018 Commonwealth silver in that event.
After that, Mia Vallee of Canada, 21, will vie for her third medal of the Commonwealth Games in the women’s 3m individual final. Vallee was the silver medalist on 3m at the 2022 FINA World Championships and won the 1m springboard event here on Friday. In April, she also won the national collegiate NCAA title on 1m for the University of Miami in Florida.