The 2012 Summer Olympics will be held in London, England, from July 27-Aug. 12. The Games of the XXX Olympiad will feature divers from around the world competing for international supremacy in their respective events. Modern Olympic diving's origins date to the 1904 St Louis games (where a local eye doctor won the first Olympic platform gold medal; more below). Since then diving has evolved from a single men's event with a handful of competitors jumping from a floating platform into a lake, to become a hugely popular international sport contested in palatial facilities.
Below are 10 things to ponder while watching these incredibly skilled athletes plummet from over three stories up, perform outrageous acrobatics, and then disappear with hardly a whisper of splash.
1. The eight Olympic diving events are men's and women's 3 meter springboard, men's and women's 10 meter platform, men's and women's 3 meter synchronized springboard, and men's and women's 10 meter synchronized platform (3m = 9.84 feet, 10m = 32.80 feet). The springboard has "spring" and bounces, the platform remains stationary.
2. Synchronized events feature two teammates performing identical dives with the goal of mimicking each other perfectly, at the same time executing the dive as flawlessly as possible. Judges are assigned to either watch synchronization or the performance of the dive itself; not both. These events made their debut for both men and women at the 2000 Olympics, held in Sydney, Australia. The platform in this event is shared by the two divers and is wider than in solo diving; the synchronized springboard events use two boards.
3. London hosts the Olympics for the third time, having done so in 1908 and 1948. London was scheduled to host the Summer Olympics in 1944, but the games were cancelled because of World War II.
4. FINA is the governing body for diving, swimming, water polo, synchronized swimming, and open water (distance swimming). Competitive diving, however, is a closer cousin to gymnastics than to the other aquatic sports; its origins are traced to European gymnasts performing their routines from bridges, scaffolding, and all other manner of platforms and landing in the water below.
5. China is by far the dominant force in international diving. Several countries have outstanding divers, but across the board the Chinese teams have been extremely difficult to beat. The United States has struggled in the Olympics recently, but has athletes with the skill to potentially improve America's recent misfortunes. David Boudia, Nick McCrory, Chris Colwill, Troy Dumais are a few names to watch for the men; Jessica Parratto, Haley Ishimatsu, Kelci Bryant, and Abby Johnston are among hopefuls for the women.
6. The Summer Olympics will not be the first important diving competition held at the sparkling, brand- new Aquatics Centre. The 18th FINA Visa Diving World Cup 2012 took place Feb. 20-26 of this year. Not only was this the first chance for many top divers to experience the facility, it was also the first sporting event of any kind held at the Centre.
7. There will be 136 divers at the Olympics, 68 men and 68 women. A country may only have two participants per solo event and one team per synchronized event. The maximum total that a country could therefore fill is 16 (eight men's and eight women's event places). The United States has 14 spots, since no American teams qualified for women's 10m synchronized platform.
8. Dives are identified by name, but are also assigned a number. Twisting dives have four numbers and a letter while other dives have three numbers and a letter. The numbers are not random, however. Digits looked at individually identify particular characteristics of the dive or diver's position. USA diving has a very thorough explanation here.
9. The United States diving team will not be finalized until U.S. Olympic trials are completed on June 24. NBC and NBCSN will provide over 67 hours of coverage (including primetime) of Olympic trials in many sports, diving included. This is the most coverage ever afforded Olympic qualifying tournaments, and provides an opportunity to watch as the U.S. diving teams are determined in competition.
10. Finally, the eye doctor mentioned above that won the first Olympic gold medal? His name was Dr. George H. Sheldon, and he died barely three years after his triumph. Only 34 when he passed, his cause of death was said to be heart trouble brought about by his training regimen for the following Olympics. His dives in 1904 were not as flashy as those of his German opponents, but his emphasis on finishing the dive properly was held in high regard by the judges, lifting him to victory.
The author has followed Olympic sports for many years while growing up a general sports nut. The 1984 Olympics were star-studded, and in retrospect were the Games that made him a fan.