Friday, 20 January 2012

Olympic Countdown - Diving

At the World Aquatics Championships in Shanghai in July last year, the Mexican pair of Sanchez and Garcia completed a dive which involved 4½ inward somersaults. With a degree of difficulty of 4.1, it’s the hardest dive in the world. When everything’s spinning in a whirl, is vision important, or do the divers rely on an internal clock to tell them when to prepare for entry into the water? Divers actually use a “visual spotting” technique. They’re able to fixate on objects such as the diving board, the water or the ceiling which tell them how many somersaults and twists they’ve completed, and when it’s time to kick out of the dive. When they practice on the trampoline, divers can learn this technique by placing a brightly-coloured object on the side of the trampoline, and this same object can be placed at the end of the diving board when practising diving into water. A “somersault simulator” is an apparatus something like a gymnast’s high bar to which the athlete is safely attached when performing somersaults. This provides the kind of controlled environment that could be used to see if performance can be improved when bright objects are placed on the floor and elsewhere for visual spotting. I know of only one attempt to do this (by Naundorf et al in 2002) which was inconclusive, but I think the potential is there of the right kind of targets are used in the right places. It’s probably a bit late for these Olympics, though. David Donner