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Mental toughness helps British divers soar

James Heatly
James Heatly was one of four divers to win gold for Great Britain at Baku 2015. Harry Engels/Getty Images
Russians stumble as several events go down to the wire

Britain’s soaraway young divers have been praised by their team leader for their mental toughness in outperforming their supposedly untouchable Russian rivals at the Baku 2015 European Games.

Julian Bellan, British Diving’s talent and development manager, asked his team to “step up to the plate” and challenge the usually dominant Russian juniors, and was rewarded with an extraordinary response across the four-day programme that saw Britain head the medal table with four golds to Russia’s three.

Even more striking was how the British champions - Matthew Lee (men’s platform), Katherine Torrance (women's 3m springboard), James Heatly (men's 3m springboard) and Lois Toulson (women’s platform) - all rose to the challenge of performing at their very best when the gold medal rested on their final dives.

Some of their Russian rivals, on the other hand, noticeably seemed to shrink when the pressure was at its highest.

“Without wanting to give anything away to our rivals, the process has been about making our athletes mentally tough. That’s the big thing,” said Bellan. 

“It’s been about normalising performance, about them showing that performing on a big stage is no different to what they might be doing in training, and they really delivered.

“We’ve been consistently a top two or three team, but I wanted them to step up to the plate this time around and they did. I had a meeting with divers and staff and congratulated all of them afterwards because this was an outstanding team effort.

“But I don’t see it as a breakthrough. It’s something we’ve been working and building on for some time. A number of these kids have been with us through four, five, six, seven years and what we’ve tried to do is build a system which develops good mental skills. You could see the fruits here.”

The British success story does have a major Russian influence, though, in the shape of their national performance director Alexei Evangulov, who, as former Russian head coach, guided his home country’s divers at the Beijing Olympics.

“We are working hard on technical programmes and Alexei is really giving us a clear direction of what is expected at every level and what we’re aiming for,” said Bellan.


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    Mental toughness helps British divers soar

    Russians stumble as several events go down to the wire
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