On Friday, Italy’s Matteo Santoro won his third gold medal in the 16-18 age group while Ukraine’s Kirill Boliukh won his second gold in the 14- to 15-year-old division at the 24th FINA World Junior Diving Championships.
MONTREAL – Day 6 was a day of one-upmanship. By the end of the night, 16-year-old Matteo Santoro outdid his double-gold-medal performance at last year’s junior world championships by winning his third gold medal in the 2022 edition, in the synchronised platform in an older age group.
A few hours before that, 15-year-old Alexa Fung of Canada eclipsed her big sister’s silver medal from Tuesday by winning gold on the 1m springboard.
In between, on the platform, 15-year-old Ukrainian phenom Kirill Boliukh won his second gold medal to go with his 3m title.
Boliukh tried for a third victory about an hour later, and had he and his boys’ synchro platform partner succeeded and beaten Santoro’s duo (in the event where age groups are mixed) then Boliukh – not Santoro – would have been the undisputed king of these championships. Here’s how it all went down.
3⃣ New World Junior #Diving Champions 🥇— FINA (@fina1908) December 3, 2022
🇮🇹 Matteo Santoro & Stefano Belotti - Men's 3m Springboard Synchro
🇨🇦 Alexa Fung - Women's (14-15) 1m Springboard
🇺🇦 Kirill Boliukh - Men's (14-15) Platform pic.twitter.com/csFpXxG9f2
Girls 1m Springboard final (Group B – ages 14-15)
Alexa Fung brought Canada it’s third gold medal of these championships on Friday in the girls’ 1m final for ages 14-15. Not only that, she earned bragging rights by doing one better than her sister, Katelyn, who earned a silver medal on Tuesday in the 3m event for ages 16-18.
“Runs in the family, I guess,” Alexa said when asked how she managed to lead all three rounds of the final and defeat the top qualifier, Molly Gray of the US, by 9.3 points.
After prelims, Fung said she knew she had a “pretty decent” chance at a medal, “but I didn’t have THAT high of expectations. I was glad I was second-to-last [in the final start order]. I hate being last.” And while her final dive didn’t earn her the most points, the 15-year-old who trains in Toronto said “the back 1½ is a good one to end on. It’s not scary. It’s not too hard. It’s just, like, chill.”
Gray, the silver-medalist, said that going into the final, “I really just wanted to keep a positive mindset and keep my composure.” To do that, she said, “I try to take deep breaths and only really focus on what’s to come and stop worrying about the past.”
The 15-year-old from Walnut Creek, California, admitted that she does keep an eye on the scores during competition. “It kinda motivates me, in a way, to do better.”
Bronze medalist Giorgia De Sanctis of Italy said, “No, no,” she didn’t think a medal was possible going into the final. Instead, she thought a top-5 finish was realistic for her junior world championship debut.
The 15-year-old who trains in Rome said she had been inspired by Santoro’s two gold medals earlier in the week, but he didn’t give her any advice. “I stayed relaxed and didn’t think of anything when I’m on the springboard,” she said. “I’m very happy and I’m so excited.”
Boys Platform final (Group B – ages 14-15)
The 14- to 15-year-old boys platform final was intriguing because the top two contenders (Joshua Hedberg and Kirill Boliukh) both had senior world championship experience – and the difficult, high-quality dives to prove it.
In the end, Kirill Boliukh of Ukraine won the gold medal, matching his gold from Monday’s 3m event. He led after each dive in the four-round final, defeating the surprise silver medalist Jorden Fisher-Eames of Great Britain by a whopping 34 points, thanks, in part, to his ability to nail the hardest dive in the contest – a forward 4 ½ that carried a 3.7 degree of difficulty.
Boliukh actually aced it twice on Friday – first in prelims (for 85.10 points) then in the final for 92.50 points. Afterwards, the 15-year-old had to quickly prep for another final, the 3m synchro event starting about an hour later, where he teamed up with Ukraine’s other gold medalist from these championships, Kyrylo Azarov.
Silver medalist Fisher-Eames, 14, of Great Britain, though, had time to talk. Fifth after the first round, he climbed to third, stayed in third, then advanced to second place on his final dive, a back 2 ½ with 1½ twists which earned 76.80 points. “It’s just a fun little dive,” he said.
Before the final, “I didn’t really have a place in mind, I just let it go, let it happen,” he said. Fisher-Eames started diving when he was 5 and quit other sports when he was 7 or 8, he said, because “I knew I wasn’t going to get anywhere in football.” His little sister, Skye, also dives but none of his family was in Montreal so he planned to relay the news via FaceTime. Will they be stunned? “Yeah, I think so,” he said.
Hedberg, the top qualifier from the US, was in silver-medal position with one dive to go. His final dive was one of his hardest, carrying a 3.6 DD (a back 2 ½ with 2 ½ twists). “Unfortunately, I had a bad take-off which led to the dive being short,” he said, explaining that when he bent down, he was leaning a little too far back, and it messed up the entry. “I knew it immediately.”
Instead, he took the bronze, his third medal of the championships. (He also won team gold on Sunday and synchro platform bronze on Wednesday).
Boys Synchronised 3m (ages 14-18)
The boys’ synchro 3m event was another intense battle, this time between Italy and Croatia. Italy led after the first three rounds, but Croatia battled back in the fourth, pulling ahead of Italy by 3.84 points. By then, Ukraine had long faded, down to eighth. And since there was no preliminary – just an 18-team final – the potential bronze medalists were scattered all over the start list, which only added suspense as everyone waited to see whose scores would hold.
Ultimately, Italy saved its best dive for last, an easy-ish inward 2 ½ which scored 71.10 points while Croatia scored 64.26 on its harder forward 2½ with 2 twists. And with that, Matteo Santoro, 16, has his third gold medal of the championships, aided by Stefano Belotti, 18, his synchro partner of five months. “I really had fun this competition,” Santoro said.
Croatia’s Matej Nevescanin and David Ledinski took the silver, exactly three points short of the win. Backstage, the taller Nevescanin was visibly upset. It was his second junior world championships and it was three days shy of his 16th birthday.
But Ledinski, 18, was pleased. “I didn’t perform very well in 1-meter and 3-meter and then this synchro – it’s amazing,” he said. “It was so close. To be honest, after we did the last dive, we thought we were going to be first. But then the Italians did an amazing dive and congratulations to them.”
As for Nevescanin who walked away and put his head against a wall, Ledinski said, “He is overwhelmed. But at the same time, he is happy and sad because we thought we were going to be first. We really wanted to sing an anthem.”
In all, Croatia had six athletes diving in Montreal, but three flew home on Friday, so only one teammate was in the stands to see Nevescanin and Ledinski take silver.
The bronze went to British 17-year-olds Leon Baker and Hugo Thomas who had been synchro partners for a year despite training in different cities. Baker said, “Every so often I’ll come to London and train with him or he’ll come down to Southampton. I think as a team, we’re sort of relaxed. We don’t really have problems and such.” As for the podium, Baker said, “It was a tough competition against everybody, really. It did look like Croatia were gonna win it.”
“But we were quite confident,” Thomas interjected, “because at our European junior championship [in July] we got silver” behind the Italians and ahead of the Croatians, “so we knew on a good day we could be up there with them.”
Boliukh and Azarov finished seventh for Ukraine. Boliukh’s parents had been watching online. He knew because his mother texted him after he had won his second gold medal on Friday, on platform. She wrote, “Congratulations my son, my sunshine.” And after Monday’s gold on 3m, she wrote, “Congratulations on your victory. I am proud of you. It was cool to see, and beautiful to see.”
Next for the Ukrainian prodigy? “Practice, practice, practice,” he said. “Next year I am moving to Group A, bigger boys, serious business, serious dives.” He is already doing big dives, of course, but he can’t relax if he wants to compete with these young men.
Saturday’s only gold medal will be awarded in girls platform, ages 16-18 (Group A), but fans can also watch the first half of the World Junior High Diving Invitational in which 14- to 16-year olds will launch off a 12-meter tower and divers 17-19 years old from a 15-meter platform. (At the senior level, women and men high dive from 20 and 27 meters, respectively.)