Sixteen-year-old Matt Cullen gave the host nation – and his home pool – the most emphatic ending it could wish for at the 24th FINA World Junior Diving Championships. He scored four 9.0s, a 9.5, and a 10.0 on his last dive on the 10m platform to become the first boy to win gold for Canada this week.
MONTREAL – On the last day of the FINA World Junior Diving Championships 2022, Montreal-based Matt Cullen put together two huge dives in the boys’ platform final (for ages 16-18) that scored 84.15 and 86.40 points en route to becoming the only Canadian boy to win gold this week.
“I tried to do my best,” Cullen said of his victory just 10 days before his 17th birthday. “I know there was a lot of good divers against me so I didn’t know what to expect. There was big pressure. I had the whole Team Canada in front of me, cheering for me. I’m very happy about gold.”
Diogo Silva of Brazil also finished strongly, earning 81.40 points for his last dive – the hardest one in the competition: a forward 4½ with a 3.7 degree of difficulty. He said he had no idea where he stood until the last diver’s scores came up – at which point, his teammates went bonkers, surrounding and embracing him on the slippery pool deck, then jumping up and down in circles. Silva had taken the silver medal, 21.05 points behind Cullen.
It wasn’t Silva’s first junior world podium, however. Last year, the 17-year-old who trains in Brasilia took bronze in synchronised platform. But the key to winning his first individual medal, he said, was “I believed in myself.” And now? “I want to celebrate by dancing tonight!”
Robbie Lee of Great Britain captured the bronze, 11.85 points behind Silva. It was his third medal of these championships. On Day 1, he claimed bronze in the team event. On Day 4, he earned silver in synchroninsed platform. The difference on Day 8, he said was “keeping myself to myself, not watching other people’s dives – only thinking about my own dives and nothing else” which he hadn’t been doing earlier. “I just started doing that at the end of [today’s] prelim,” he confessed.
As for the stamina required to make the podiums in the first and last events, Lee said, “You’ve definitely got to plan weeks in advance, otherwise you’re just going to be wrecked. It’s tiring.”
Now that he’s done, Lee said he’d “probably relax, pack all my stuff. I think there’s a party.” After that?
“I’m not too sure,” he said, “probably senior nationals in England, in February sometime.”
“You’ve definitely got to plan weeks in advance, otherwise you’re just going to be wrecked. It’s tiring.”
World Junior High Diving Invitational
Earlier, just before the grand finale, fans craned their necks to watch an exciting new event: the World Junior High Diving Invitational. Although it wasn’t officially part of the 24th FINA World Junior Diving Championships, 32 athletes from 10 nations vied for scores either by diving from a 12-meter tower (if they were 14-16 years old) or a 15-meter platform (if they were 17-19). To get to the 15m perch, athletes had to tread along a narrow suspension bridge near the ceiling of the 1976 Olympic venue and clip their shoes onto a little zip line to lower them to the pool deck.
“The response so far has been just sheer, utter excitement,” said Mitch Geller, chief technical officer for Diving Canada and a member of FINA’s high diving technical committee. “Everybody wanted to see how this thing was going to pan out. What’s been most impressive to me has been the quality of the diving.”
Carter Baker of Canada placed third in boys’ 15m. He started high diving less than a year ago after competing provincially at 3m and 10m. As soon as Baker heard high diving was going to be at the junior world championships, he said, “I was like: I have to see what I could do with it. My whole idea with high diving is that if I can become the best at it, I might as well go for it.”
“I was like: I have to see what I could do with it. My whole idea with high diving is that if I can become the best at it, I might as well go for it.”
At the same time, Andrea Barnaba of Italy was thrilled to win the boys 15m event. “Two months ago, my trainer said, ‘Oh, there is a competition. Let’s go!’” he said. “I never train higher than 10 meters. Well, sometimes in Rome I train from 12. I feel the difference from 12, yeah. Three meters higher, more time to fly.”
Geller called both junior heights (12m and 15m) “stepping stones” to the senior heights (20m and 27m) but more than that, he said, “This is a real stepping stone for the discipline itself and for moving into a FINA-recognized junior high diving world championships. When that’s done, you’ll see federations start to embrace the new discipline because it’s part of the whole aquatics picture. We worked hard to develop the rules, and we got to test them here.”