Oxford-educated diver Tanya Watson will dedicate her efforts for Team Northern Ireland to one very special person writes Alec McQuarrie.
The 20-year-old, who became the first-ever female Irish diver to qualify for the Olympics in Tokyo last summer, will be boosted by the return of crowds for the 2022 Commonwealth Games.
It has been a whirlwind 12 months for the Southampton-born diver, who finished 15th in the semi-finals in Tokyo, before undertaking a chemistry degree at St Peter’s College, Oxford.
And a successful showing in front of friends and family would mean the world for many different reasons.
“It would mean so much to win a medal for Northern Ireland,” Watson said.
“My grandma passed away but I’m sure she’d be really proud of me knowing that I’m representing Northern Ireland because she’s from Derry.
“It would be amazing, to be honest, just to be able to represent my family and where we’re from.
“I’d love to come top half of the final - top six would be amazing. But my aim is always to dive consistently and that’s always number one.
“And to be honest, I just want to enjoy it because I’ve had a lot of things on this year, with my degree and things like that.”
With 9:00am lectures most weekdays, Watson juggles weight training in the afternoon with tutorial prep and frequently travels back to Southampton for pool training at weekends.
Watson admitted: “Balancing the degree and diving is quite a lot of work. I enjoy the balance because you can focus on one thing at a time.
“So, say I found chemistry really hard that day, then I’ve got training. It’s a really nice distraction. I can get away from the academic side of it.”
With the Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games set to inspire people and communities across the country this summer, Watson hopes sharing her story will give others motivation to get involved in sport and turn their dreams into reality.
With only fellow divers as spectators at the Tokyo Aquatics Centre due to Covid-19 restrictions, Watson is looking forward to performing at a multi-sports Games with fans in attendance.
“With a crowd you can bounce off, it almost makes you more excited to be performing.
“It just changes the atmosphere because you’ve got a mixed crowd, with people who’ve never watched it in their life to the people that support you the most.
“I’m just excited for my family to be able to watch me in person. At the Olympics semi-final, because it finished at like 4am, I’m pretty sure they just went straight to bed.
“I think I texted them saying, don’t worry, you can go to sleep knowing that I’m really happy with my result.”
A full arena also brings added pressure, but Watson is confident her mentality is built on solid foundations after working with psychologists in the past.
“The mental side of diving is much more important than you’d ever see. I would say if you’re not worried about the height at all, then that’s probably not good.
“It’s always good to be a little bit aware of how high you are. It means that you concentrate and are aware of what you’re doing.
“I think it’s very easy to become outcome orientated, when actually I’ve also got to remember what in that particular dive am I focusing on. Is it the jump? Is it the entry?
“Also not being put off by the way other people are diving, because sometimes you know you’re going to be following a diver who gets nines or tens.
“That does happen. It used to affect me as a kid but now I’ve learned to cope with that, and it doesn’t anymore.”
This summer, Team Northern Ireland, supported by National Lottery funding, will comprise over 400 athletes in total, and having secured her place on the squad, Watson is looking to capitalise on the once in a lifetime opportunity for medal success for her home country.
She made the switch from gymnastics to diving as a child, and although she’s a member of the Oxford University Gymnastics Club, she’s pleased with the decision.
“I don’t regret quitting gymnastics,” she said. “I was only eight, but diving was much more up my street.
“I don’t miss it because I’ve had such a rewarding career in diving, and I’ve really, really enjoyed the last 12 years.”
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