A journey into the 20-year-old Olympian diver

Paul Calver’s photographs and Andy Waterman’s collected words take us inside the aerial and aquatic universe of Team GB Olympic Diver Scarlett Mew Jensen.

Scarlett attended her first Olympics this year in Tokyo at the age of 19, in what was possibly the strangest Olympics in history, with no fans in arena, but with expectations and nerves as high as ever.

Scarlett talks about her life and her mindset inside an atypical visual context: the dry dive of the London’s Olympic aquatic centre in Stratford. Enjoy.

I started out doing gymnastics and dance. Lots of sport. Then talent ID coaches came into my primary school, trying to pick out people who they thought would be good for diving. I got invited to try out at Crystal Palace in south London, to test the water. I did all of the sets and all the workouts, and I had a talent for it, apparently.

I enjoyed diving right from the start. I was very young and it was jumping into a pool, which was so exciting. And I kind of got it. I’d done gymnastics before, and obviously diving is very similar, but it’s easier going into water. They said my way of diving was quite fluid but powerful at the same time, and I think that was something that was quite rare in a female athlete.

Diving has got something different about it – when you mention that you do diving, people perk up a little bit and they’re like, oh that’s quite cool. But yeah, I definitely had my ups and downs when I became a teenager: do I really want to be missing out when all the people I know are going to parties? You have to have that drive to push all that aside and say, no, actually I’m gonna go to training and I’m gonna work really, really hard and get to my dream, which is another level of excitement.

What does a perfect dive feel like? It’s indescribable. It does feel like you’re flying; I don’t really describe it as that, but it really does. When everything comes together, it feels so effortless and easy. I actually think I felt that amazing sensation when I was at the Olympics: none of my dives were perfectly executed, but as I left the board, I felt this massive amount of adrenaline and nerves, and the power that I felt was close to perfect. When it all comes together it’s just like your body is on autopilot. It doesn’t even feel like competition any more, it’s all slow motion.

When you think about what you’re doing in training and why you’re doing it, it’s actually muscle memory. It’s training the nervous system so all these different parts fire the way you want. My coach always used to say that your body will try to choose the easiest path, but when you’re trying to make a change, you have to go around the long way to break that chain. That’s what doing more reps, training every day and bringing the sport home with you is doing: it’s not just to make the dive a 10, it’s to make the way that you do the dive feel easy, so you can perform it perfectly every time.

The coach I’m with, we’ve been through three or four pre-seasons together. Pre-season is where you do the really simple stuff to get your body moving again, get yourself back into the swing of things. Those basics are the majority of our training, even in season. It’s all of the things that lead to that bigger dive, so for instance, for a forward rotation, you would do a forward dive, a forward 1.5, a forward 2.5, and then a 3.5. So you go through those steps to get to the end goal. Those simple dives are the most important, and in pre-season, they’re about 100 percent of training. In-season, depending on the day, it would be like an 80:20, or a 50:50 split, depending on how your body works and how you’re doing.

The gym is probably more important for me than the pool. Power is my strongest element and along with that, you have to be elegant and you have to have accuracy. Those are things that are a little bit easier to teach, I think. Power is harder to find.

The gym really drives me to be the diver I am. Without that, my diving in the pool wouldn’t be half as good as it is. You’ve got the trampolines where you can practice all your simple skills, and the boards, which are pretty much a direct correlation to the boards in the pool, so you’re literally doing the dives that you do in the pool but in the gym, where you can get more reps in without exerting yourself doing the a full dive. And then we’ve also got a rig,which is like a harness: if you’re learning a new dive, or you’re struggling on a dive, or there’s one thing you want to fix without having to do the dive, your coach will rig you in there, you’ll be in the air and then land on your hands. That’s really valuable.

I listen to music the whole time before I get on the board. I put some massive headphones on and I’m literally just in my little world. I listen to hype music. If I do an amazing dive, I sort of need to keep my cool. So I need to sort of stay relaxed. I also need to stay pumped so it needs to be a little bit of an in-between of hype and relaxed. And if I do a terrible dive, I need to get really pumped, really hyped.

I try not to look at the scoreboard. I just block it out. I see my result at the end of the competition and that’s it. It’s really just you against your potential.

Scarlett Mew Jensen – Team GB Olympic Diver
IG @scarlettmjensen

Photo by Paul Calver
IG @calverphoto

Andy Waterman

Text by Gianmarco Pacione