To Watch a Diver

By Jordan Liu Shao Wen

Kimberly Bong Qian Ping and Eilisha Rania. - Photo by Muhammad Rais Sanusi.

Kimberly Bong Qian Ping and Eilisha Rania. – Photo by Muhammad Rais Sanusi.

Diving seemed like a dull sport.

Frankly speaking, I had never been interested in water sports. I never learnt to swim, and diving seemed like a bore at first glance. It was only coincidence that my first job for The Borneo Post was to spectate the diving events with journalist Patricia Hului at Sukma XVIII, an event that hasn’t come round to Sarawak since 1990. I expected little in what was to come, but now I find myself exceptionally happy with what I have seen.

It was 11 am on a cloudy Monday, and I was sat within a sea of patience. There was little noise, other than the cacophonies of beachside splashes, and clopping springboards.

An intermittent clapping played out every time one of the divers did something I found interesting, but the crowd seemed like one entity: little movement, some chatter, a lone camera click.

Nothing was happening. The crowd still seemed small, compared to what I heard was an amazingly full Sunday. I was starting to get worried. A slow start surely wasn’t good in getting any newcomer’s interest, but then the first event of the day started: the women’s platform finals. Six contestants diving through a multiple of sets. My interest piqued at the scores.

What I managed to capture with my smartphone.

What I managed to capture with my smartphone.

As a beginner watching divers do their sport, the hardest thing I had to grow accustomed to was the scoring system, and I don’t believe I was the only one.

How did it work? There was the usual seven, the amazing nine, or the lackluster 4. Sure, I knew what they meant, but what contributed to it? Was it how they jumped? Was it the angle of their bodies as they entered the water? Or was it something an untrained eye wasn’t able to tell?

And the other thing I thought was worthy of controversy was the idea of putting such a large age gap in the competition. There were people as young as 11 against people potentially older than 21. How was that fair?

Photo by Muhammad Rais Sanusi.

Photo by Muhammad Rais Sanusi.

I heard from my accompanying journalist that it was done so to ‘set the bar higher’, but it seemed like a shaky claim. Theoretically, if someone was betting money on who won, they’d all bet on the oldest- the one who potentially had the most experience. It just felt wrong to see little kids literally fall to potential adults in a sports of skillful falling.

But now wasn’t the time to critique something I myself might not understand.

The first event was rather uneventful. At least there were no injuries or accidents- seriously, was the pool a trench’s depth?- and I found myself clapping along with the crowd when the star of the show got an eight or nine. It started to become entertaining once I tried predicting scores. (I mostly got them wrong, but I don’t blame myself.)

Sarawak won the silver and bronze later. Not the best, but what’d you expect when two of our representatives had to test their skills against an older opponent from another state?

The next event was an hour away. I decided to go out and get a bite out of two cheap sausages in a stall a walking distance away. They were mediocre, and I daresay they were like salt packets disguised as meat. In any case, I was adequately satisfied, thirsty, and ready to return.

The next was the men’s 3m springboard synchro with five pairs, and I have to say, if you have never watched or attended a diving competition, these should be the first types of diving you should watch.

The entire event was intriguing in a way unlike the first event, because the complexity in how the dives had to equalize between the two divers baffled me. It truly attested to the training the divers had to undergo.

And then something clicked. I was actually wholeheartedly interested!

The athlete’s names I have sadly forgotten, but their performances were an entertaining experience. I found myself clapping when the home team, Sarawak, got a gold in the synchro event. I was actually proud, and so was the crowd who seemed to have been injected with a liveliness most charming.

Perhaps there was something worthwhile about spectating a dive. How they spread their hands like wings, before closing into arrows that plunged into water. I swore that, at their speed, they could spear fish.

The competition played with the audience by using a slow sense of suspense. It wasn’t like football or basketball, where the action demanded a dynamic flair, where blood, sweat and tears painted the field.

Here was a sport that punched once, and ended the fight in an instance. And all the excitement laid in how the fist travelled. All the wait laid in what scores the person you supported would get.

Maybe I did underestimate it a bit. Diving was charming in a way most sports can’t replicate. Sure, it was slow, but the results nonetheless blew me away. I honestly don’t regret it.

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