"Maybe I can start my own legacy" - Oliver Dingley aiming to make a splash at the Olympics

The diver becomes the first in almost 70 years to represent Ireland and is hoping to inspire a generation of athletes

Oliver Dingley

Image: ©INPHO/James Crombie

On February 21st of this year, Oliver Dingley made history.

His performance at the Diving World Cup saw him earn an 11th place finish in the men’s 3m Springboard event, with the English-born diver ranking as high as fifth during the competition.

Not since 1948 had Ireland sent a diver to compete at the Games, Eddie Heron the last to fly the Irish flag on the diving board (not literally, of course).

Qualifying for Ireland through his grandmother, a native of Spike Island in Cork, came as result of being overlooked four years previous. He finished second in the Team GB trials for London, but selectors opted to take the third placed finisher instead.

This time around, he was determined to ensure that his future was in his own hands.

"In Olympic diving, I had only got one shot to qualify for the Games," he tells Newstalk.com. "It’s different from say swimming where you have a year and a half and if you get a certain time you get to go to the Olympic Games.

"In diving out of the top 60 divers in the world, the top 18 made it through. And you only get one chance. That’s a lot of pressure. It’s not like we get as many chances as we want and if you miss one dive you don’t get to go to the Olympic Games. It’s a heartbreaking day but on the other hand it’s an amazingly magical day.

"The trials lasted for more than four hours. That’s a lot of time to stay focused to do six dives. I was mentally drained for weeks afterwards. The margins are so fine and in a sport like diving, they are particularly fine. If you make even the slightest of mistakes, it either hurts or it’s not going to go well.

"It’s so great to be a part of that and the Olympics are such a pedestal. Hopefully we can use that and encourage, even if it’s a small number of people, younger swimmers into the sport. You never know, you might get the next Olympian or the Olympic champion walking onto the poolside in Ireland. To be a part of that and to be at the forefront if the project is so exciting."

Oliver Dingley says he is relishing the challenge at playing at the 'biggest sporting event' on the planet. Image: ©INPHO/Gary Carr 

The 2014 Commonwealth Games bronze medalist is under no illusions as to the size of his achievement and has his sights set on creating something to build on for generations of Irish swimmers and divers in the future.

"It’s a big achievement for anyone to make the Olympic Games, whether it’s swimming, diving or running. Any sport at the Olympic Games is a huge deal. It’s the pinnacle. Personally I do think it’s the biggest event globally. Maybe I’m being bias but I think the Olympics is bigger than the World Cup or any other event in the world.

"I’m very proud to be going. It’s 68 years since Eddie Heron qualified and he created such a legacy, but a legacy that has sort of dropped off.

"Now I'm part of that but maybe I can start my own legacy. It seems to be a sport that people seem to be very interested in during the Games and the reception I’ve had particularly in Ireland has been amazing.

"Life is short and hopefully right now I’ve living it to the fullest. These opportunities might only come around once. I’m in the small minority of people who get to go to an Olympic Games, so I’m going to ride that wave and enjoy every moment of it."

On the backdrop of Katie Taylor's gold medal in 2012 or Sonia O'Sullivan's silver in 2000, the 23-year-old explained that the Games has the ability to create moments that will stay with people for a lifetime.

"It only comes around once every four years but it really is the biggest show on earth. I think it has got a big place in a lot of Irish people’s minds and hearts.

"For me to be a part of that is to be a part of history. I think it does capture the public’s imagination and in four year’s time in Tokyo it’ll be just as big. It’s going to be over so fast so I really just want to enjoy it. If it’s a good result or if it’s not, I’ll move on and look forward to the next one." 

The Zika virus has come under the spotlight in recent months. Image: Felipe Dana / AP/Press Association Images

This summer's Olympics have been overshadowed by the emergence of the Zika virus, the withdrawal of top golfers, Brazil's political and economic turmoil as well as the conditions in which the athletes will be staying.

Despite the negativity, Dingley insists it will not let it impact on his performance at the Games and will not sully his experience.

"When I went [to Brazil] before we didn’t have all the knowledge [about Zika] that we have now and we didn’t have all the support we do and I was fine. I stayed out in Brazil, we went further out into this jungle to go to a waterfall on the Argentinian border and I came back fine. Going now to Rio we do have the information and the support staff… I think everyone knows what is going on and personally I feel very safe.

"The Olympics is a big event and at the end of the day there’ll always be controversies or excitement. So to be a part of that is absolutely mind boggling."

So the countdown really and truly begins for Dingley. After departing for Rio and preparing to experience the opening ceremony - a dream he has had since he was seven-years-old - he continued to remind himself that this is just another competition. 

During the Diving World Cup, he and his coach passed the time between dives by throwing a tennis ball into a foam roller. He says he will do the same to retain some sense of normality in Rio. 

After the Games, whether as his full time vocation or funded by a part-time job, he says he will continue to do everything he can to further diving in Ireland.

Oliver Dingley isn't phased by the negativity of the outside world. Inside, he retains the passion and awe that inspired him to chase his Olympic dream.

"I’m at a level now where I want to be involved in the sport and helping push the sport to the next level. That’s the most exciting aspects for me.

"It’s in my blood now."