The history lesson taught here is a result of research done by "Buck" Dawson, Executive Director of the International Swimming Hall of Fame prior to my taking that position, and Hobie Billingsley, one of the top 3 diving coaches in the history of diving. I just copied  from their work.

                                                HISTORY of DIVING


On a roof slab of a vast burial vault south of Naples is a painting of a young man diving from a narrow platform. The discovery of the "tomba del Tuffatore' (the Tomb of the Diver) shows us that the .excitement and grace of diving from high places into water has lured people from at least 480 B.C. (the date established for its construction).

As with most sports dating back to Ancient times, little data on competitive diving have survived. We do know that England held the first "modern-day" diving competition around 1880.

Diving has been an Olympic sport for men since 1904.  The 1908 Olympics in London included full competition in 'fancy' diving from both a platform and an 'elastic board' (prior to this, diving was done from a fixed platform). Diving for women was added in the 1912 Olympics.

The first diving meet in the United States was held at the University of Pennsylvania in 1907. Early diving tables showed only fourteen dives possible from the platform and twenty from the springboard;  the current United States Diving and FINA table lists 88 dives acceptable from the three meter springboard.

The early competitive dives were somewhat simple movements. In the 1908 Olympic Games, a top-rated diver failed a front double somersault, and the official report suggested that this dive be eliminated from future Olympics because multiple spins could not be controlled without serious risk of injury.

Today it is not uncommon to see ten-year-old divers performing  great double somersaults. In fact in 2004 in the summer regional championship a high school diver was doing front 3 1/2s tuck on 1 meter in preparation for his front 4 1/2 tuck  he would later do in the 3 meter competition.

No sport has altered so much during its history as diving. During the early nineteenth century the only references to it in the books on swimming referred to a simple plunge from the side as a means of entering the water for the purpose of swimming. This was eventually developed and performed for its own sake and became known as 'plunging'. In 1893 the first Plunging Championship was inaugurated. The English Amateur Record of 86 feet 8 inches (26.4 meters) was made by F.W. Parrington at Bootle in 1933. The Plunging Championship continued until 1937.

The Evolution of Diving  for its own sake had already developed from the plunge, and the take-off was being attempted from greater heights as these became available. Many of the early divers were gymnasts who found a new and exciting way of Indulging in gymnastic feats with less chance of injury. Eventually the entry into the water became for these enthusiasts just a landing medium and the take-off and flight through the air became the 'dive'. This difference caused some confusion in the swimming world, and Ralph Thomas, the noted swimming historian, urged the adoption of the term springing to apply to entering the water from an elevation. By this time however the word 'dive' had become so firmly established that it was too late to change it.

Diving was fast becoming a seperate sport with its own devotees. It needed courage, a spirit of daring and the will to perservere in spite of the numerous smacks received when attempting to dive from greater heights.

The main problem with jumping and diving from heights in those days was finding suitable places. People began jumping from bridges in Europe and the U.S.A. and later diving in head first from them. Indians in Acapulco, Mexico, were adept at jumping and diving from high cliffs into the sea. Visitors to Hawaii in the late 19th century, recounted how the natives leaped, dived, and somersaulted from considerable heights. This was often done into deep pools at the bottom of waterfalls for the sheer fun and excitement it provided. In England, harbors and piers at seaside resorts became favorite rendezvous for the new sport.

Development of Diving in Europe  At the beginning of the nineteenth century a new form of diving was developing in Europe, mainly in Germany and Sweden where formal qymnastics were popular. During the sununer months, gymnastic apparatuses were transferred to the beach where exercise out of doors was the vogue. The flying rings, trapeze and springboard were erected and used from high platforms to enable gymnastics over the water to be performed, using the water as a more comfortable landing medium than the less yielding gymnasium floor.   This was the beginning of 'fancy diving' the name later given to aerial acrobatics over the water. Until this time, most diving was 'plain' diving in the form of the simple forward header with the body held straight and arms extended sideways, known in the early days in Europe as the 'Swedish Swallow' and later in the U.S.A. as the 'Swan Dive'.

The trapeze and rings were gradually discarded and diving from platform and springboard incorporating gymnastic somersaults developed as a separate sport (with its own devotees) and became known as Springboard Diving and Fancy high Diving.

Prior to the First World War, Sweden dominated the Plain and Fancy High Diving events. In both the 1908 and 1912 Olympic Games, Swedish men divers won the bronze, silver and gold medals in the Plain High Diving, and in the first Fancy High Diving event in the 1912 Games, they won the gold and bronze with Germany taking the silver. In the women's Plain High Diving event held for the first time in 1912, the Swedes took first and second places with Belle White of Great Britain third. The men's Springboard events in the Olympic Games prior to the First World War were dominated by the German divers who won all bronze, silver and gold medals. The one exception was the U.S.A. diver, Sheldon, who won the Springboard event at the St. Louis (U.S.A. Games in 1904. The European Championships were introduced In 1926 under the jurisdiction of the LEN (European Swimming League) to take place in between the Olympic years.With. the U.S.A. divers not eligible, this event provided a wonderful stimulus for the European divers.Germany dominated these events winning more medals than any other nation.   Britain's only golds were Betty Slade (Springboard) in 1938 at the Wembley Empire Pool, London, and Brian Phelps who, at the age of fourteen, won the Hiqhboard event with ease in 1958 at Budapest.He repeated his success in 1962 at Leipzig.1966 saw the Italian diver Klaus Dibiasi win the gold medal with Phelps in second place.

The Plain Dive The term 'Plain Dive' was given to all dives performed running or standing in which the diver took off facing the water and entered head first without any intermediate somersaults or twists. During the flight, the body was not allowed to be piked or hunched as these were regarded as Fancy Dives. The first divers in this country performed a Plain Dive with the arms held above the head during the flight, later to become known as the English Header. However, the early Plain Diving competitions were always won by the Swedish divers who demonstrated their beautiful Swedish Swallow.The English Header soon lost favor as it was more difficult to control than the Swallow and it eventually disappeared from competitive diving. All running Swallow Dives were performed from a one-foot take-off, as it was considered. that this gave more control than a take-off from two feet. Divers today may find it difficult to appreciate the position the Swallow Dive held prior to the First World War. Fancy Diving was in its infancy and the Swallow reigned supreme. Each pact of the diver was described in great detail. It was aesthetically pleasing to watch, something that cannot be said for many of the complex twisting somersaulting dives that make up the modern competitive diving program.

Plain Diving in Great Britain In 1889 the first diving proper championship took place in Scotland. It included a dive from a height of about 6 feet (1.8m). IN 1893 the first diving stage in England was erected at the Highgate Pond (London). It was a firm board fixed at a height of about I5 feet (4.6m) above the surface. In 1895 the Royal Life Saving Society staged the first National Graceful Diving Competition, open to the world at Highgate Pond. It was for men only and comprised standing and running Plain Dives from heights of 15 feet (4.6rn) and 33 feet (10m). The 10 meter stage was a temporary structure fitted up each summer for a few weeks and taken down after the competition. This competition was handed over to the Amateur Diving Association in 1920 and taken over by the A.S.A. in 1935 and renamed the Plain Diving Championship. Until 1953 it was held outdoors at various holiday resorts, but in 1954 it was transferred to the indoor Derby Bath at Blackpool where it continued until 1961 when the competition was discontinued.

The Plain Diving competition, devoted entirely to the Swallow Dive, had survived unchanged for over sixty years. Plain Diving was introduced into the Olympic Games program for the first time in 1904 at St. Louis, U.S.A. and it continued as a separate event until 1924.

Fancy High Diving In the late 'nineties Messrs. Johansson, Nagberq and Mauritzi came over from Sweden and demonstrated the art of 'Fancy High Diving' from the 10 meter platform erected at Highgate Pond. This resulted in the formation of the Amateur Diving Association in 1901, the first official organization in the world devoted to the sport of diving. There were more facilities for platform diving in Europe than in the U.S.A. and the European divers from England or Northern Europe dominated the Plain Diving events. In England and most of Europe divers graduate from Plain Diving, taking off from platforms, to Fancy Diving from platforms, then to springboards. In the U.S.A., diving started later and grew up via springboard diving. The definition of Fancy Diving was 'dives with somersaults or twists'. 'Fancy' Dives were included for the first time in competition in 1903. Springboard diving was included in the Olympic Games at St. Louis in 2904. In the 1928 Olympics the men's Plain and Fancy High Diving events were amalgamated into one competition and renamed Highboard Diving and the word 'Fancy' disappeared from diving vocabulary.


The Evolution of the body Position_In the early 1920s most Fancy Dives were performed in the straight position from both spring and firm boards. The Amateur Diving Association (England) stated in 1921 that certain somersaults may be made with a bend at the hips and knees if the board is not sufficiently high enough to allow the limbs to be kept straiqht. 'Back Front' dives should be performed with no bend at the hips or knees but from a low board it will be found necessary to bend at the hips. As multiple somersault dives came into being it became necessary to ball (tuck) the body up to complete the necessary rotation and so the tuck and pike positions eventually became recognised positions in addition to the straight position.

In the 1920 Olympics at Antwerp, the diving list included the Header Forward (Straight), the Hunch Dive (Tuck position) and Pike Dive as three separate dives. It was later decided to make them one dive, i.e. 'Forward Dive' to be performed in any one of the three positions at the choice of the diver. This applies now to all dives in each group.

Contest Revisions Over the years, diving contest conditions have undergone constant revision and been altered in the liqht of experience. In the period before I924 the diving tables were complex. There were six methods of executing each Forward or Reverse Dive. The take off could be standing or a running take-off from one foot, or a running take-off from both feet, and in case a head-first entry could be made 'with or without hands (in the latter case the arms held by the side!). The competition itself consisted of ten compulsory dives and two post dives. The "post" dives were drawn by number out of a hat, and as they consisted of some of the most difficult dives on the list, it was an unnerving experience for a diver waiting for his 'post' dive to be drawn.

The 1928 Olympic diving competitions consisted of compulsory dives and voluntary dives. The compulsory dives were selected after each Olympic Games and were in force for the following four years.

This form of competition continued until the 1948 Games in London. From 1949 to 1956 all dives were voluntary dives on both spring and highboard, and very rarely were the basic dives ever seen in competition. After 1956, the regulations were revised again to include five required basic dives from the springboard. This brought a new look to diving and did a great deal to ensure that divers mastered their basic dives before being encouraged to attempt the more differcult dives.

Early High Diving Platforms The platforms used by early divers were often temporary wooden scaffolding structures, far from rigid and erected outdoors, making diving from them in windy weather a perilous pursuit. The ascent to the 10 meter platform was usually be means of a vertical ladder which in itself was a hazardous procedure. For many years all 10 meter diving stages were constructed outdoors. For countries with warm weather for most of the year this presented no problems. A covered 10 meter diving stage is a costly project and for many years was considered an unnecessary luxury. As new building techniques and materials became available, it became a practical possibility. Indoor 10 meter diving facilities are now found in most countries allowing high-board training to take place all the year round instead of during just a few weeks in the summer season. In the Americas and Australia the 10 meter platform is referred to as 'the Tower'.

The Olympic Games diving events were all held outdoors until 1948 when they were for the first time held indoors at the Wembley Empire Pool, London. Many modern diving stages incorporate a lift to take divers from the bathside to either the 7k meter platform or in some instances to the 10 meter stage, thus eliminating the exhausting climb prior to each dive.

Earth High Diving in England From 1895 until 1922 the only opportunity to dive from 10 meter in England was for a brief period each summer at Highgate Pond when a temporary stage was erected on top of the existing 15 foot (4.6m) platform. The authorities would sometimes leave the stage in position for a few weeks and so give divers their only opportunity for 10 meter practice. The L.C.C. erected a permanent concrete 10 meter structure in 1923 and for many years it became the diver's mecca.

The opening of the Empire Pool at Wembley in 1934 for the Empire Games, with its 10 meter stage', Olympic springboards, arid 16 feet (4.88m) of water, heralded a new era in diving history. The Olympic diving trials were held there in 1936, and the European Games in 1938. During the war it was closed, but it was reopened especially for the 1948 Olympic Games. Diving suffered a severe blow when it was decided to close the pool after the Games and to convert it into an ice rink and sports arena.

The Evolution of the Springboard The Paris Olympic Games in 1924 were notable for the introduction of the first standard International Springboard with a movable fulcrum brought over from the U.S.A. The American men and women divers made a clean sweep of all six Springboard medals. On these boards they produced a standard of execution that put them in a class way above any other country. In 1928 an American diver, Pete Desjardins, won both the High and Springboard diving events at the Amsterdam Games. He demonstrated dives never seen before from the springboard such as the Forward 1 Somersault with a Full Twist. He was invited to England in 1931 and again in 1934, 1935, 1936 and 1937 when his exhibition inspired the divers of that period.

The early springboards were crude affairs compared with the highly scientific metal alloy boards today. The original 'Springboards, were simply planks, of wood fixed together with cross battens with very little sprinq in them. Each country had its- own design of springboards and visiting divers had to spend considerable time qettinq used to the boards. The modern metal alloy board manufactured in the U.S.A. is so far in advance of any other board that its use has become general all over the world. This standardization of springboards has had a tremendous influence on the progress of international diving. England's first springboard was installed at Highqate Pond by the L.C.C. in 1923.

The Fulcrum Evolves  In 1921 the Amateur Diving Association (England) stated that the 'outer point of support' for springboards should be placed 4 feet 6 inches (1.40m) from the front end of the board.

The early fulcrum were little more than wooden trestles fixed permanently to the deck. The  springboards were often bolted or strapped to the fulcrum, a practice which resulted in early breakage of the board due to a concentration of stresses at one point. All sprinqboards now rest free on the fulcrum. Movable fulcrums were introduced in the early twenties which allowed the fulcrum to be adjusted by the diver, as a different fulcrum position is required for standing dives to that required for running dives. The modern freely adjustable fulcrum unit is a precision instrument made of steel which allows the diver to adjust the fulcrum roller easily at will. For the modern springboard 4.60 meters (16 feet) long, the fulcrum roller is set when centered, at a point 1 meter (3' -10") from the front end. The first moveable fulcrum unit to be used in the Olympic Games was brought over by the U.S.A. team for the Paris Games in 1924.

Womens Diving Regulations Women were allowed in the Olympic diving events for the first time at the Stockholm, Sweden games in 1912, in a Plain Diving contest. Diving was considered unsuitable for women at that time and it was not until the 1920 Games in Antwerp that women were allowed to compete in springboard events. Women were allowed to compete in a Highboard (fancy) Diving event for the first time at the Amsterdam, Holland Olympics in 1928 (the mens and womens Plain Diving events having been discontinued after the 1924 Games). It was decided however that certain dives were not to be performed by women at all and some other dives were to be performed by women from the 5 meter platform only. Their restriction lasted until the 1956 Olympic Games in Melbourne. In 1957 it was removed and from then on women could perform any dive listed in the tables.

U.S.A. Domination The First World War brought diving to a halt in Europe and the U.S.A. divers forged ahead to such an extent that when the Olympic Games restarted after the war in 1920 at Antwerp, they swept the board, gaining all six Sprinqboard medals in the men's and women's events. This started the U.S.A. domination of the Olympic diving events. After the Second World War had ended in 1945, diving was in the doldrums in Europe. In 1948 England acted as host for the first post-war Olympic Games. The diving events were held at the Empire Pool Wembley and we again saw how supreme, the U.S.A. divers were. Mrs. Victoria Drives, U.S.A. won both Springboard and High Diving events demonstrating a grace and excellence not seen before. But it was Sammy Lee, the U.S.A. diver from California, who captured the imaqination of the spectators when he won the men's High Diving.  

He went on to repeat his success in 1952 at Helsinki. His ease of performance in such dives at the Forward 31/2 Somersault from the 10 meter board was unbelievable. 'Fancy' diving had come a long way in a few years.

The U.S.A men won every men's Springboard event from 1920 to 1968 and took every second place until 1968 when Dibiasi (Italy) came second. Of the eleven platform golds, the U.S.A. men won nine, being beaten by Mexico (Capilla) in 1956 and Italy (Dibiasi) in 1968. The U.S.A, women won every Springboard medal (coming first, second and third) in the period 1920 to 1948. Mrs. June McComick, U.S.A., won the Olympic Springboard and High Diving events in both 1952 and 1956, a remarkable feat. The U.S.A. women's run of qolds was broken by Inqrid Kramer (East German) who won both the Springboard and High Diving qolds in 1900 at Rome and the Springboard gold in 1964 at Tokyo.

European Emergence The Munich Olympics in 1972 saw a further decline in U.S.A. dominance.   In the men's Springboard event Russia came first, with Italy second and the U.S.A. third. In the men's Highboard Klaus Dibiasi (Italy) repeated his 1968 success and came in first with the U.S.A. in second place.

In the women's events, Micky King won the only diving gold for the U.S.A. team, coming first in the Springboard final. In second place was Ulrika Knipe (Sweden) who went on to win the women's Highboard event.

The largest threat for the future is in the Russian and East German and China divers who have progressed to a very high standard and are obviously out to break the already crumbling U.S.A. domination in world diving. The indifferent climate in Northern Europe retarded progress in diving there, but as more indoor diving facilities are provided, the gap between the U.S.A. and the rest of the world is gradually being reduced.

The Commonwealth Games The British Empire Games (now the British Commonwealth Games) were first held at Hamilton (Canada) in 1903 with eleven competing countries. Called 'the friendly games' and staged every four years in the same year as the European Games they provided yet another encouragement to England who could not break the power of the U.S.A. and Germany in world diving events.

_Then and Now  In the early days of diving it was often a case of 'survival of the fittest'. Only those with courage combined with a high degree of gymnastic ability attempted it. For man years there were no textbooks to help understand the complexities of the sport. Training was a case of trial and error on the 'hit or miss' principle, with the diver getting more smacks than was comfortable. In resent years a more scientific approach to diving has been achieved, there have been great improvements in both conditions performance of established dives and an increase in the complexity of new dives. 

In fifty years the sport has qrown out of all recognition. Today youngsters are performing dives that would not have been considered possible fifty years ago even by experienced adults.

Metro Atlanta Divers