When Clare Cryan began diving at nine years of age, no one could have guessed that she would go on to compete internationally, herself included.
“I was such a scaredy cat and none of the coaches thought I’d really make anything of diving,” said the Sheffield-born diver. “Competing internationally was not something that was on my radar.”
Yet, sport is unpredictable and over the years, Cryan has proven both herself and those coaches wrong. Now, she vying to be the first first female diver to ever represent Ireland at an Olympic Games, if she qualifies for Tokyo next year.
“It would be absolutely incredible. Like it’s really weird talking about it because even though it’s a goal and you’re so focused on it, when you hear it said like that, it’s kind of like, “wow”, it gives me a little bit of butterflies,” she said. “There’s a lot of work to be done between now and then.”
Cryan, along with her synchro diving partner Oliver Dingley, won the bronze medal for Ireland at the Canadian Grand Prix, setting a new Irish record of 269.04 in April 2019. She was named performance diver of the year at the Swim Ireland 2019 Awards.
Cryan’s qualifying event for Tokyo 2020 was set for April, but of course has now been postponed due to the coronavirus. Cryan said she wasn’t surprised, however she had planned to retire from diving this year.
“I guess that means some things have to be put on hold for another year…but that’s not really much in the grand scheme of things,” she said.
To qualify for the Olympics, you have to come top 18 in the World Cup. “Diving isn’t really like other sports so you can’t accumulate points or anything. It’s a bit cut-throat.”
Whilst Cryan is adamant she wasn’t the most naturally gifted diver, she never contemplated giving up. The people involved in her club down in Sheffield and the variety within the sport kept her constantly eager to return for the next training session.
Cryan competes in the 1m and 3m individual springboard events. As an Olympic hopeful, the diving board is now where she is most comfortable. This hasn’t always been the case.
Fear has previously cemented her to the boards and stopped her from jumping. She’d freeze on the board as if her body had forgotten all her training. She would cry.
Over the years Cryan has learned to manage and channel this fear. “I think it’s that learning curve of how to use your fear and your nerves to actually make you feel way better. Still, like doing some stuff is scary, but after you’ve done that first one or something like that, you kind of remember the feeling of doing it and completing it is way better.”
Cryan waxes lyrical about the support within the diving community. She recalls her first ever competition as a child when she was surprised to see her coaches and club mates cheering for their opposition.
“That’s when I realised how close the diving community is and everyone’s friends and everyone is cheering for each other. Even though you’re competing against them, you still want them to do well, which is actually quite weird.”
At the age of 22, Cryan took a break from competitive diving and tried her hand at performance diving on a cruise ship for nine months. Diving competitively had taken it’s toll both physically and mentally. She had just completed her sports science degree in college and was coaching seven days a week. With this she had to fit in her hours of training in between her office job. She was totally burnt-out and began to question if she truly enjoyed the ordeal of diving and training.
“What it taught me was ‘Actually, I miss diving and I miss the competing (sic),’ so I knew that part was right for me to do,” she said. “Maybe when I did come back, I had to be careful how much coaching and work I did alongside because I knew that that burnout would happen.”
Cryan got in touch with Ireland’s national diving coach, Damien Ball. She moved to Dublin in October 2017, where she lived on the National Sports Campus for for two years before eventually returning to Sheffield at the end of last year. One of the key reasons she moved home was to work with her old coach at Sheffield.
“He obviously worked with me for about nine years I think so I thought, “Okay, going into this big Olympic year, this coach knows me well and knows how to get good stuff,” so did Damien, but there was other things going on and it was better to be in a place where I was comfortable.”
Since rekindling her love for the sport, Cryan has notched some impressive results, including a first-ever medal (bronze) for Ireland in synchro-diving alongside Oliver Dingley at Canadian Grand Prix in April 2019. Cryan also placed 12th in the 1M Springboard Final at the European Diving Championships.
Prior to the unprecedented global coronavirus pandemic, Cryan travelled to Dublin every four to six weeks to train with the Irish squad. Her training schedule consists of a six day training week. A typical day would consist of training from 9.30am to 12.30pm followed by a two hour lunch break and then more training from 2pm to 4.30pm.
Although Cryan doesn’t place too much focus on diet, she said it’s important to have a good balance.
“For me, if I get too light I find it really hard to push the board and generate the power that I feel lighter and skinnier in the air, and then on the flip side, if I get a bit heavier, I feel really strong on the board but I feel a bit slow and sluggish in the air.”
Cryan believes that her slow start to diving helped her to stick with it. “When I was little, I didn’t dive because of success, I dived because I enjoyed it,” she said. “I’ve been a much later person to find my feet and get onto the international scene.”
“It absolutely wasn’t on my radar and neither was the Olympics, so it’s quite exciting now that that can be in focus and something that I’m trying to aim for.”
For now, there is still work to be done to reach her Olympic goal but with every passing day, Cryan’s bid to make history in Tokyo is slowly grabbing momentum.
⭐ Want to know how diver Clare Cryan is doing right now?— Swim Ireland (@swimireland) April 19, 2020
Here's an update she gave to @HerSportDotIE on Instastories recently 💪
FOLLOW 👉https://t.co/turGV6zv0x FOR MORE INSTASTORIES TAKEOVERS! #TeamarenaIRL #TeamIreland @sportireland @TeamIreland pic.twitter.com/2vhqPRQ1aX