AT ONLY 17 years old, it is entirely forgivable to use the phrase “over the moon” to describe the feeling of competing in the 1m springboard final at a home Commonwealth Games, and not only that, but to outstrip one’s own expectations.
James Heatly is preparing to enter the sixth form. He has not even begun to think about the universities he will need to start applying for in the coming months. He is, rightly, relishing the moment, and the chance to shine in front of his schoolmates, as well as distinguished family members.
Heatly is the grandson of Sir Peter Heatly, who won three diving gold medals at the Commonwealth Games in the 1950s. Now 90, Sir Peter looked proudly on as his grandson, who turned 17 only two months ago, first managed to qualify for the 1m springboard final with a personal best score of 317.65, before then bettering it in the final, where he finished ninth out of 12 competitors, after scoring 345.60.
Regarding the comment used to describe how elated he is, one so beloved of football managers and players, Heatly looks as if he probably could leap over the moon, so graceful were his dives yesterday. He will go higher still this morning back at the Royal Commonwealth Pool in his hometown of Edinburgh, when he competes in the 3m springboard event. Promisingly, this is, he says, his favoured event.
“Doing well in an event in which I am not as good at has put me in a good frame of mind for tomorrow, and I am even more excited now,” he said, although there seems little danger that such youthful enthusiasm will deflect from his performance.
This is someone doing the equivalent of taking each game as it comes. Again providing reason to believe he has a real opportunity to make something of himself as a diver, he is remarkably level-headed for one of such a tender age.
“I am not experienced enough,” he said bluntly, when asked about his medal prospect today.
What about the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro in two years’ time? “I don’t know,” he answered. “I might be too young, or I might be fine. I don’t like to think about competitions too far ahead. At the moment I am just thinking about this competition, then the next one, and then the next one. Nearer to the time I can tell how realistic Rio is.”
As for the support last night, he was very clear about the extent of its perfomance-enhancing properties. Not all of his friends from George Watson’s College, where he is at school, were able to get tickets for the sell-out session, so they gathered to watch it at a designated house. Others were fortunate to be here. But you didn’t have to know Heatly personally to want to whip up noise for the youngster, who was asked whether the atmosphere put 10 per cent on his performance. “10 per cent?” he queried “More like 20 per cent”.
“It was absolutely amazing,” he added. “I have never been in front of a crowd this loud and this supportive. It has not really sunk in that I am competing at the Commonwealth Games. It has sunk in that I am at the Commonwealth Games, just not that I am competing.”
But competing he is, and giving other more experienced divers in the field a run for their money, in an event he says he is not especially strong in compared to his peers.
At 19, the English diver Jack Laugher could be regarded, in this youthful world, as nearing his prime. He took gold, proving right one banner which stated that “good things come to those from Leeds”, or, in his case, Harrogate, and having led from the start.
He, too, is more confident performing at a height of 3m, and will go for double gold today. Yesterday proved to be a productive day for the Team England divers.
In front of their watching teammate Tom Daley, who will compete in the 10m platform, Alicia Blagg and Rebecca Gallantree won gold in the synchronised 3m springboard yesterday evening, with Sarah Barrow and Tonia Couch winning silver in the synchronised 10m platform final, won by the Canadian favourites Meaghan Benefeito and Roseline Filion.
“It’s something I’ve dreamed about since I started diving, 12 years ago,” said Laugher, a former world and European junior champion.
“Recently I’ve been starting to perform on a senior level for the first time. I’ve been winning World Series medals and a World Cup medal.
“This isn’t an Olympic event but this gives me confidence for tomorrow, which, if I do well, will give me confidence for Rio. I’m hoping that Rio will be the one for me.”
As for Heatly, and the future, he was looking ahead only as far as this morning, when his famous grandfather will be back to offer support.
“I spoke to him after the prelim, and he said ‘well done’”, reported his grandson, who was still beaming at the end of a day that was disrupted slightly by a technical fault in the morning, which meant the judges had to resort to using ‘old school’ score cards, something that would surely have caused Sir Peter to chuckle.
“Ninth place is amazing, I am over the moon with that,” added the younger Heatly. “I have not had much experience so it is good to be able to see how good other people are. It has given me a lot more enthusiasm to try and be as good as them in the future.”