OLYMPIC GAMES | DIVING

How fast do Olympic divers hit the water and how high do they dive from?

The women's synchronized 3m springboard gets the diving programme underway at the Tokyo Aquatics Centre at the 2020 Olympic Games.

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How fast do Olympic divers hit the water and how high do they dive from?
Al Bello Getty Images

The Olympic diving programme gets underway in Tokyo on 25 July with the women’s synchronized 3-metre springboard event leading one of the most aesthetic and highly-skilled Olympic disciplines. Over the course of two weeks at the Tokyo Aquatics Centre, a total of 136 divers will compete in eight separate events in search of the gold medal.

How high do Olympic athletes dive from?

There are two height categories at the 2020 Olympic Games, one from three metres and another from 10 metres split into two categories, springboard and platform. From three metres, competitors launch themselves from a springboard and at 10m there is a considerable drop from the fixed platform, as generations of schoolkids who climbed the steps at the local pool only to climb straight down again can attest.

There are four events at each height:

3m: men’s and women’s springboard, men’s and women’s synchronized springboard.

10m: men’s and women’s platform, men’s and women’s synchronized platform.

How fast do Olympic divers hit the water?

Diving was first included at the Olympics in 1904 and referred to as “fancy diving” due to the flips and somersaults performed from the platform. At the St. Louis Games, there was also an event called the “plunge for distance” event, an early version of free-diving in which competitors would try and reach the deepest point of the pool. This event was switched for the springboard in 1908.

The minimum depth for an Olympic diving pool under International Federation of Aquatic Sports (FINA) regulations is 3.2 meters for springboard diving the maximum is 5 meters deep for 10m-platform events.

Unsurprisingly, Olympic diving is as dangerous as it looks. The American Academy of Pediatrics notes that broken bones are a risk factor for divers, particularly those competing in the 10m events. According to most studies, a diver entering the water from the 10m platform hits the pool at around 35 miles per hour. Competitors in the 3m disciplines generate their own level of impact by attempting to gain as much height as they can from the springboard to perform as many acrobatic feats as possible: up to three-and-a-half to four-and-a-half rotations and sometimes three twists before reaching the water, according to the official website of the Olympics.

As such, springboard divers hit the water at only a slightly slower pace than their 10m colleagues. That is why divers tend to wear wrist supports to protect them from the impact. A speed of 35mph is comparable to that of a gull or a sparrow in flight, faster than a blue jay and on a par with land animals including grizzly bears and bison.