The exacting sport of springboard diving is pure art, a pursuit of beauty for its own sake. An eye-catching dive such as Nancy Poulsen of Phoenix, Ariz, performs on the opposite page is, in the ultimate, a sort of visual music, a melding of precise parts and different tempos into a single, fluid expression. Each instant in the short life of a dive should have beauty but can have it only if all preceding moments have been perfect, or nearly so. The postures and the tumbling, twisting acrobatics of a diver in flight are essentially simple; it is the capacity to combine them boldly but with grace that makes a great diver. On the following pages Photographers Tony Triolo and Coles Phinizy show the flawless execution at critical moments that has made Nancy Poulsen and her teammates of the Dick Smith Swim Gym the foremost colony of diving artists in the world.
Poised at the peak of an inward dive. Patsy Willard (foreground above) executes a perfect pike, while Pat Clark culminates a front dive with the same frozen moment of beauty.
Their bodies impeccably taut, Patsy Willard and Pat Clark do forward twisting layouts (right), as Barbara Talmage (in center) soars backward through a reverse dive layout.
Her body perfectly aligned, Nancy Poulsen knifes the water surface as Jeanne Collier hangs momentarily overhead at the apex of her dive from the one-meter board.
High Art of the Aquatic Tumbler
Toward the end of the Victorian era, when boys and girls first bared their calves in public and frolicked daringly together in the water, the sport of springboard diving was born, a random pastime of aquatic stunts and simple dives like the front header." Today there are more than 100 dives and variations of dives recognized in international competition. With the human body now functionally stripped and unencumbered, the oldest, easiest dives have acquired a greater, simpler beauty. The most difficult dives today are complex indeed—riots of swiftly integrated action. In this present age, when the circus-type mind rather than the artistic prevails, a diver who does a complicated dive only moderately well usually wows the spectators and sometimes even the judges, who in recent years have shown a tendency to award points too liberally for acrobatic skill, when beauty of the form in flight is the true criterion.
When done very, very well, most of the complicated dives can be beautiful, for they are all made up of the same classic ingredients as the older, simple dives that evolved with the gradual emancipation of the human body. However large his repertoire, for example, there are only three basic postures that a diver assumes in flight: the tuck, the pike and the layout—postures commonly known as the cannonball, jackknife and swan among those who have horsed around swimming pools. In the more complex dives the performer's body may spin through one or more somersaults and, in the course of the same dive, also be twisting on its long axis. These few postures and acrobatic movements are the integral parts of all forward dives and back dives, of all reverse dives—which are back dives executed from a forward takeoff—and of all inward dives, which are essentially forward dives executed from a backward takeoff.
In a typical complex dive, the forward double-twisting one-and-a-half somersault, the diver's body closes part way into a pike, reopens and closes again; while this is happening his head and feet change direction three times and his whole body rotates twice. Today even fairly ordinary divers can cram all that action into the scant second and a half before they enter the water, but when they do, the total aspect is that of a hapless body falling out of a third-story window.
The speed of such fast, wrangling movement is often more than the unpracticed eye can follow. The judge not completely sure of himself may be confused as well as dazzled by the acrobatics and, because of his uncertainty, tend to be timid in his scoring. The timid judge is reluctant to penalize a shoddy performance, generally awarding a passable score of 6 rather than a low score of 3 or 4, which such a dive genuinely deserves. Since the complex dives have a high degree of difficulty, worth nearly twice as much as simple dives in the final corrected scoring, an esthetically inferior acrobat often gets a handsome payoff that is not deserved. Because of this influence, many divers concentrate on the acrobatics, neglecting the fundamentals that make all dives beautiful.
In national competition the judges are usually competent, penalizing the awkward, overly acrobatic diver and justly rewarding the genuinely polished performer. Although their repertoires include the most difficult dives done by women today, the diving girls of Phoenix pictured on the preceding pages spend about half their time practicing the fundamentals—the approach steps, the critical hurdle step, the departure from the board and the basic postures that give expression to every dive. In any national or world meet the Phoenix girls are capable of winning half the honors, and their success can be attributed largely to their continuing respect for fundamentals and their tireless insistence that every moment of every dive do full justice to the human form.