ABC Splashes Into the Fear in Diving

man jumping in pool
man jumping in pool

Trembling legs at the end of the board, controlling your breathing to calm the nerves and looking down to check if the water is still actually 33 feet below you are a few examples of fear that are portrayed on ABC-TV's Splash, a show that debuted recently featuring celebrities attempting the mentally and physically challenging sport of diving.

I am an NCAA diver for Northwestern University. I get it.

Every time I look down from the 10-meter platform, butterflies flutter in my stomach, and my heart begins to race. Every time I slice through the water, adrenaline rushes through my body just like the first time I learned the dive. As a competitive diver for about 15 years, the fear in diving and sense of accomplishment after completing a dive never goes away. The reaction that these celebrities have to their training and competition is only a fraction of the reality.

Diving from a three story building is no easy feat even for the professionals, and hitting the water the wrong way is not much more forgiving than hitting concrete. In the celebrity training profiles that ABC played before each competitor performed their dive, the audience witnesses the dangers of diving, but the clips do not do it justice.

Felicitas Lenz, a 22-year-old diver and teammate of mine at Northwestern University, explains that the show is important for the sport of diving, even though there are parts that are not completely accurate. The show is meant to entertain people, so it has to take into account what the audience wants to see.

"I thought it was interesting because it increased the awareness of diving as a sport," Lenz says. "Since diving is such a small sport, people generally have no idea of what it takes to be a diver."

As a diver for Chicago Dive Club in high school, I competed at a national competition in Maryland. While practicing in warm-ups the day before the event, I did back 2.5 somersaults off the 7.5-meter platform, and hit the water so flat that I did not even go under the surface. Coming out immediately black and blue and unable to breathe regularly for about 10 minutes, I never thought I would be able to compete that dive again. But in diving you have to brush it off and walk straight back up to the platform.

In Splash, the celebrities portray the difficulty of training for diving, as well as everything that goes on behind the scenes at practices including trampoline, gymnastics and strength and conditioning. However it does not account for the amount of time it takes to master these basic skills. Instead the celebrities rush to the platforms, only to perform one dive they have not yet mastered.

Annika Lenz, sister of Felicitas and an 18-year-old diver from Altadena, Calif., was featured as one of the background divers for the opening scene of Splash. Lenz performed forward 3.5 somersaults in the pike position from 10 meter in the opening ceremony.

"Although this diving show is not a complete representation of diving, there are some things that are accurate," Lenz says.

Lenz explains that the journey of each diver before they performed their dive was crucial in illustrating the sport of diving because it shows how much the celebrities improved as the show went on, but in diving you are really only judged once. The training is in the past.

While entertaining, this show did not fully represent diving. I thought that the show made it seem like everyone can be a diver, and this is not the case. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, the 7-foot tall contestant and former basketball superstar, shows that extreme height does not work to his advantage.

"Diving is a small person's game," Abdul-Jabbar says on the show.

I am 5-foot-2 and 110 pounds, or fun-sized as some of my friends like to say.

Since diving takes years to improve, many of the dives the celebrities performed were drills.

Another major flaw in the show came from the judging. In my opinion, Keshia Knight Pulliam (who was sent home) showed the most talent. But the judges' scores were based on overall improvement over the course of the training.

"Human nature prevents us from judging without bias," Felicitas Lenz says. "But the majority of the score should come from the skill shown."

Compared to FOX-TV's Stars in Danger: The High Dive, a two-hour special that aired in January, Splash seems to be a more accurate portrayal of diving. The ratings also prove this. TVLine Media reports that Splash premiered with 8.8 million total viewers, while Entertainment Weekly reported that Stars in Danger: The High Dive only acquired 3.4 million viewers.

Regardless of the accuracy that both shows have in regards to diving technique, these shows are important to the sport of diving because it brings needed attention to a sport that oftentimes is forgotten about after the Olympics. With recent success like Splash judge David Boudia's Olympic gold medal in London, attention from these shows can bring the sport the respect and admiration it deserves.