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tokyo hopeful Another bump in the road for Olympian Oliver Dingley after overcoming so many hurdles

Diving star has overcome dyslexia and depression and made Ireland home

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Oliver Dingley during the Irish Open back in 2019. Photo:  Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile

Oliver Dingley during the Irish Open back in 2019. Photo: Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile

Oliver Dingley during the Irish Open back in 2019. Photo: Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile

Olympian Oliver Dingley expected to be on a plane bound for Tokyo tomorrow.

His mission there was to secure an Olympic slot in the 3 metre springboard diving event and then nine days ago, FINA pulled the plug on the World Diving Cup due to concerns over Covid-19.

It’s another bump on the road for Dingley, who, as a 23-year-old newcomer, finished eighth in the event at the Rio Olympics. FINA announced on Friday that the event will now take place on the first week of May in Tokyo.

Overcoming adversity is second nature to Dingley who was raised in Harrogate, a spa town in North Yorkshire. Hyperactive as a kid, he was diagnosed as being dyslexic while at primary school.

Oliver found refuge from his academic woes in the Coppice Valley swimming pool near his home. His introduction to diving was unplanned. “I was about six, but I remember I was grounded. My brother was going for a swimming lesson and I was dragged along and told to sit in the stand.

“The diving board was open, and I persuaded my Dad, who was probably bored, to go for a dive. After seeing me dive, the lifeguard said I looked like I enjoyed it.

“It is always nice to be praised when you’re young.”

He has been diving ever since.

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Oliver Dingley during a practice dive ahead of Rio Olympics back in 2016. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

Oliver Dingley during a practice dive ahead of Rio Olympics back in 2016. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

Oliver Dingley during a practice dive ahead of Rio Olympics back in 2016. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

“I’m a proper bloke, so I’m terrible at multi-tasking, but the one thing I can do is spin through the air and somehow do it all right.”

Excited

His first sporting hero was Andy O’Brien, a member of the Republic of Ireland’s 2002 World Cup soccer squad. Like Dingley, O’Brien is from Harrogate.

“I was so excited about the World Cup because there was somebody from my hometown playing.”

He later got to meet O’Brien who came to Oliver’s football club, Killinghall Nomads, to present prizes.

Even though England reached the quarter-finals, ten-year-old Dingley found himself drawn towards the Republic. He remembers nothing about the infamous Roy Keane exit.

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His paternal grandmother Ivy Offen grew up on Spike Island in Cork Harbour. Though she lives a distance away in Kent, Ivy had a profound influence on him.

“We didn’t see her that often because it was a five-hour journey in the car, but that made the trips more mystical.

“Her walls were covered in photographs from Ireland, and I was always asking her about them. And the one subject I found interesting at school was history.”

In 2014 together with his long-time coach Damian Ball he moved to Dublin and declared for Ireland.

Dingley shared a house on the national campus site with another expat US-born swimmer Shane Ryan.

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Oliver Dingley.

Oliver Dingley.

Oliver Dingley.

By then Dingley had established himself as a leading diver in Britain.

He was the youngest ever British men’s champion on the 1 metre springboard, aged 15, but failed to make the squad for the London Olympics.

“It was something I always had an eye for, but competing for Ireland never seemed possible. It was an opportunity to be part of a squad which had the potential to expand. It was quite surreal to be able to represent a country which I had always identified with.”

Precious

For a 21-year-old there was a sense of adventure about moving from a small town to a big city. Mind you, in those early years in Dublin he saw precious little of the city.

On one occasion Dingley and a UK friend decided to take the bus from Abbotstown to the nearby Blanchardstown Shopping Centre.

“The problem was we didn’t know where the centre was, and we ended up getting off the bus at the Spire in O’Connell Street. That was my first experience of Dublin city centre.”

But inside the pool it all came together. Dingley will always have fond memories of his two trips to Rio in 2016 – firstly for the Olympic qualifier which was his first international event representing Ireland, and then the Olympics Games themselves.

He became the first Irish diver in 48 years to compete in the Olympics and his performance at the Games probably didn’t earn the kudos they deserved.

He progressed to the final along with 11 others. At one point in the six-dive final Dingley was lying fourth before eventually finishing a credible eighth.

Paradoxically, Dingley is far better coping with the unique demands of diving off a wobbly metal board and plunging three metres into water than doing mundane chores like the weekly shop. Throughout his life he has had to deal with anxiety and depression.

“It may sound strange to people that I can stand up on a diving board in front of God knows how many people and I can perform, yet feel absolutely horrendous about going out to the supermarket.

“There was a period I lived off crisps I got from the vending machine at the pool due to my anxieties about going to the shops.

“Really struggling with other things in life means that diving is an outlet for me.

“Even when I went through the bad patch, I was able to perform and be one of the best divers in the world on some occasions.

“The 2018 World Cup is a good example. I was really in the thick of it in terms of anxiety, but I finished seventh.

“Like many other people I take medication. You must keep on top of it.

“Sometimes you go back to bad ways. But it is all about speaking up and being open and honest.

“I am very lucky in having a fantastic network all around me, like my family and other people that I can speak too.”

Away from the pool his life was expanded as well. He enrolled in a degree course in film and broadcasting at DIT back in 2017.

Graduate

He was due to graduate this year but if the Olympics go ahead this summer, he may stretch out his final desertion until next year.

And he has finally got around to visiting Spike Island. “I think my Nan is very proud of what I have achieved.”

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