Jack Laugher hailed a redemptive Olympic bronze in the men’s 3m springboard final after revealing the torment that has followed him round for the past couple of years and left him on the brink of quitting diving.
Laugher won gold and silver at Rio 2016 and he completed the set at the Tokyo Aquatics Centre by claiming the last place on the podium as Xie Siyi took top spot, with Chinese compatriot Wang Zongyuan finishing runner-up.
There was palpable relief afterwards from Laugher, who spoke of his embarrassment at his final dive at the 2019 World Championship as he slipped from a gold medal position to take bronze and how his mistake haunted him.
He candidly confessed that he kept repeating the error with the same back three and a half somersaults dive, leaving him fearful of attempting it until a turning point at the European Championship in May.
“This (Olympic bronze) means everything to me,” said the 26-year-old from Harrogate. “It has been the worst two years of my life.
“After the 2019 World Championships and failing to make myself a world champion, embarrassing myself with my final dive and the mistakes and the failure that I had there, it crushed me, it really, really crushed me.
“It put me in a place that was just terrible, cried myself to sleep quite a few times, had a lot of sleepless nights because I still make that same mistake.
“I had no confidence in myself, my anxiety was through the roof and I was physically scared to do the dive. It has been awful and I’ve hated it.
“I feel like this bronze medal is redemption from what has been such a bad couple of years. It might not be a gold medal but a medal around my neck is just the sense I’m back and I’m here and I am ready to keep going.”
Laugher, who finished seventh in the synchronised event alongside Dan Goodfellow last week, put in a consistent display in the Japanese capital, not dropping below 81 points in his six dives with a best of 96.9.
But he admitted he has come close to quitting on a number of occasions this year and says he can identify with the high-profile challenges experienced by American gymnast Simone Biles during these Games.
“I wanted to quit this year, quite a few times,” he said. “I was very close. When you are good at something, I’ve always been good at the back reverse movements, that’s why I’ve finished on the back three and a half all my life.
“I can’t tell you hard it is going to training every single day being scared of doing a skill because you don’t know where you are.
“It is so hard to throw yourself off a diving board while your heart is racing and you just don’t know where it is.
“I’ve made the same mistake over and over again and I just thought I’ve had a long and prosperous career, maybe this is a sign I’ve lost it, I’ve lost my mojo and I don’t know what I’m doing anymore.
“It’s actually quite interesting to see a very similar thing happen with Simone Biles. I have a lot of empathy with her situation that she’s in right now because I can only imagine how hard it is being for her being the best in the world by a long shot and struggling with something that she’s found so natural all her life.”
Laugher paid tribute to girlfriend and fellow diver Lois Toulson, as well as those closest to him, for their support during his tough times, but he believes he has now turned a corner.
“I had a bit of an epiphany after the European Championship and kind of noticed what I was doing wrong,” he added.
“I was focusing too much on certain techniques. Once we stripped that back and found out what it was that made me as a diver, what technique I have, my coaches let me go with it.
“We weren’t chasing perfection anymore, we were just do you, be you, do what you have done all your life.
“Without Lois, without my psychologist Laura, without my coach Adam Smallwood, my amazing strength and conditioning coaches, friends and family; everyone round me has been my rock.
“I feel this completes everything for me. I feel I am back again, I feel I can take this confidence moving forward, now it is a time I can try and be the best version of me, I can be. I hope I will sleep OK now. I need it.”
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