SWIMMING pools across Scotland are struggling to cope with an explosion in demand from budding diving stars aiming to emulate the success of Olympian Tom Daley.
Primary schoolchildren are leading the demand for the sport, forcing leisure centres with diveboard facilities to create waiting lists for classes for the first time.
The number taking part each week at one Edinburgh pool alone has trebled in a year, while diving clubs around the country are reporting a similar surge in interest as a result of the “Daley factor”.
Daley, who won bronze at the London Olympics, will appear in Edinburgh in three weeks’ time when he competes in the Fina World Diving Series at the Royal Commonwealth Pool.
Recently refurbished at a cost of £37 million, and with the only Olympic-height 10 metre diving board in Scotland, the venue is at the heart of the sport’s new boom. More than 500 people, mainly children and some just four years old, now take part in weekly diving classes with a waiting list in place to cope with demand. Last year, the pool had fewer than 150 divers.
Mandie Arthur, the Commonwealth Pool’s dive coach, said yesterday the surge had taken staff by surprise and had prompted them to hire additional staff and install extra one-metre boards.
She said: “The sport has just exploded on the back of last summer’s Olympics and the recent television show Splash, which also featured Tom Daley.
“The children coming in are telling us they saw diving on TV and want to be the next Daley. They are full of confidence and have no fear of the diveboards, and they all want to leap off from 10 metres from the word go. I have one four-year-old who is able to dive in from the five-metre board. It’s amazing.”
Only a handful of swimming pools in Scotland have diving facilities, but all have experienced a surge in demand for lessons.
The numbers taking part at the Olympia Leisure Centre in Dundee have doubled since last year, while a similar increase has been recorded at the Citadel Leisure Centre in Ayr.
All classes are fully booked at the Newbattle Leisure Centre in Newtongrange, Midlothian, with a waiting list for those keen on trying the sport, while the special Easter camps for children are also full.
Officials at Midlothian Council say diving has become “extremely popular” over the past six months and attribute the demand, at least in part, to Britain’s teenage Olympian.
Scotland only has three dedicated diving clubs – in Ayr, Edinburgh and Dundee – but all have witnessed a marked increase in interest.
Kay Neale, diving convener at the Dundee City Aquatics Club, welcomed the surge in interest but said more could be done by governing body, Scottish Swimming, to capitalise.
She said: “The coverage of Tom Daley has been such a huge influence, and we have seen our membership more than double. I think our youngest diver is about five years old, and we have had much more interest from young people.
“That’s great because diving is, and always has been, a minority sport. But my bugbear is that there is still a lack of facilities for diving and we should be looking to the future and building more pools.”
The rise in interest among schoolchildren augurs well for Scotland’s medal hopes. Teenage diving stars James Heatly and Grace Reid, both 16, are among those aiming for gold in the sport at next year’s Commonwealth Games in Glasgow.
Tom Daley’s coach, Andy Banks, said in an interview that the teenager showed promise from the age of eight, even if his first foray on the board ended in tears.
He said: “I watched him for about 15 minutes then turned around and said, ‘That boy will never make a diver’.
“In my defence I didn’t actually see him get in the pool – he was standing at the back of the one-metre board crying and refusing to go on because he was in a strop about the dive he’d been asked to do. When I did finally see him dive it was obvious there was a talent there.”
Daley, 18, will compete in Edinburgh between April 19 to 21, when the city hosts the third leg of the Fina World Diving Series, following on from Beijing and Dubai.