Balancing on the edge of the platform, 10 metres above the water, Sam Fricker has learned to deal with the fear.
“It’s something every diver feels,” the 15-year-old says.
Fricker was training in Sydney three weeks ago when he came undone on his first attempt at a new twisting handstand dive.
He hit the water badly but swam to the surface. His NSW Institute of Sport coach, Vyrinka Arlow, realised something was wrong, and his mother took him to hospital, where he was diagnosed with concussion.
Two weeks later he was back performing the same dive at the Australian open championships and world championship selection trials in Sydney, where he finished sixth in the final behind reigning Commonwealth Games gold medallist Domonic Bedggood.
He also finished seventh in the finals of the three-metre and one-metre springboard.
Fricker’s drive to succeed has been apparent since he entered a Hunter schools competition at the age of 10, with a background in gymnastics but little diving experience, and won the regional title en route to qualifying for the national championships.
At 12, the Hunter United Diving Academy youngster announced to NSW Institute of Sport assistant coach Joel Rodriguez, a two-time Olympian from Mexico, that he, too, would compete at the Olympics one day.
“He said to Joel, ‘Have you been to the Olympics?’ And Joel said, ‘Yes, I have, actually.’ And Sam said, ‘Yeah, well, I’m going there,’” his mother, Toni, recalls.
“I remember Joel saying, ‘Lots of kids think it, but he’s the first to come straight out and say it.’ I just cringed. I don’t think Sam even knew who he was.”
A year later Fricker was in the NSWIS program and was named the outstanding male diver of the year by Diving Australia at the 2015 national age championships.
He was the youngest recipient – at 14 – last year of funding under the Commonwealth Games Australia NSW Athlete Grant Program.
Fricker now lives in Sydney, attends Trinity Grammar and trains with NSWIS, but his singleminded ambition remains.
Asked how he felt about his sixth placing in open national company, after finishing fourth in the semi-finals, Fricker offers only one word: “Disappointed.”
The former Novocastrian admits that he is conceding plenty of years and experience to divers like 22-year-old Bedggood, but he is still in a hurry.
He made the final of the Dresden International Youth Diving Meet in Germany six weeks ago after missing last year’s junior world championships with a broken wrist.
Now wants to make the Australian senior diving team sooner rather than later and qualify for next year’s Commonwealth Games on the Gold Coast.
His main goal is to stand on that platform at the Olympic Aquatics Centre in Tokyo in 2020, when he will be 18.
Given his track record, you wouldn’t bet against him.
Published in the Newcastle Herald | 1 June 2017