PLYMOUTH diving stars Tonia Couch and Sarah Barrow have put their World Cup success in Rio down to experience.
The city duo sensationally won a bronze medal and qualified Great Britain an Olympic synchro spot in Friday night’s nerve-wracking make-or-break platform final in the Brazilian city.
Couch and Barrow went into the competition knowing they had to finish in the top five to book a spot for this summer’s Olympic Games. The World Cup was the last chance for divers to secure quota places.
The Plymouth pair, who have won European, Commonwealth and World Series medals, had only qualified seventh for the final, but they turned on the style when it most mattered to finish third behind China and Malaysia with a score of 308.82 points at the outdoor Rio venue.
“We did not care where we came as long as it was top five to get a qualifying spot for the Olympics,” said Couch. “But to come third was a bit of a shock to the system. We were just so pleased.”
Barrow added: “We went from seventh place to third, so you could imagine how nervous we were.
“In the prelim we didn’t dive as well as we thought we were going to do, but the final is the final and you start from scratch again. We just thought we would forget what we had done in the morning.”
Couch and Barrow, coached by Andy Banks at the Life Centre, are one of the most experienced pairs on the world circuit and that showed when the pressure was on.
“I think our experience definitely helped, especially as it rained halfway through our competition,” said Couch, who has competed at two previous Olympic Games. “We just had to keep our heads together and just keep focussed. It (the weather) affected a few others, but as we are so experienced we just tried not to let it affect us.”
The pressure had certainly been on the city pair. Despite all their success over the years, their partnership was broken up at the end of last year with British officials pairing Couch with European Games gold medallist Lois Toulson.
But after January’s National Cup where Couch and Barrow came first and second in the individual event, British Diving reinstated them as a pair and gave them the task of trying to secure the country that one women’s platform synchro spot.
“I think we both handled the pressure quite differently,” said Barrow.
“But we were so happy to be picked for the synchro again after the nationals.
“However, we only had three weeks practice. Even though we have got the experience of working together there are still bits that we had to fix and three weeks is not really long, which is maybe why our third dive was not as good as it has been previously.
“But it was all down to experience. We just had to do what we could to get that spot.”
Barrow said they knew after their third dive in Friday night’s final that they would probably secure that all-important top five finish.
“I think we knew if we hit our third dive then the other two dives would follow quite nicely as we are quite confident on them,” said Barrow. “Our third dive was still not the best we had ever done but it was better than the morning.
“We thought if we hit that one the others teams might wobble a bit and so we were quite confident going into the other two dives.”
Couch and Barrow are now hoping British Diving will select them as a pair for this summer’s Olympics. However, they will probably have to wait until after the trials in June to find out.
But Barrow said: “I think by getting a medal we have proved something. Even though the score was not the best we have done, you still need that experience in competition. Like Tonia said, it rained and all the other teams buckled a bit and I think you need that experience not to do that.”
If they are selected for the Rio Olympics they will be back in the same outdoor pool as they competed in on Friday.
Now the duo can relax and watch their GB team-mates try and secure the country other quota spots.
“We are team cheerleaders so we may lose our voices by the end of it. We’ve got a lot of cheering to do,” said Couch.
The pair will return to Plymouth next weekend but then are likely to be heading to China for the opening World Series event of the year.