Versatile Dan Goodfellow: "Diving is 90 percent mental"

British diver Dan Goodfellow reveals how he handled the pressure of teaming up with Tom Daley, the importance of 'wiping out', and why he had to put on eight kilos of muscle.

By Andrew Binner

There aren’t many divers in the world more versatile than Great Britain’s Dan Goodfellow.

At just 23-years-old he is already something of a veteran on the international circuit, having an Olympic medal on the platform and a world medal on the springboard.

Most divers specialise in one of the variations for the duration of their professional career due to the significant differences that exist between them.

Subsequently no British athlete has ever won Olympic medals in both events, but that could be about to change at the Tokyo Olympics in 2021.

“They're almost like two different sports,” Goodfellow told Olympic Channel in an exclusive interview.

“It's like doing two distances of running. The movements are similar but one board doesn't move and the other does, so you have to have different attributes for each one.

“It’s rare for someone to do both and be very good at both of them.”

Tom Daley (Right) and Dan Goodfellow (Left) won 10m Platfrom Synchronised diving bronze at the Rio 2016 Olympics.

Dan Goodfellow: "Diving is 90 percent mental"

Goodfellow’s professional diving career literally began on a high, as he plunged in from the 10m platform.

With divers reaching speeds of up to 30 miles per hour before making impact with the water, one slight mistake can lead to serious injury.

“I can guarantee every single diver that goes up there will be scared, even if they’ve been doing it 20 years," he continued.

With so much on the line, Goodfellow employs several mental techniques in order to ensure he can overcome any nerves and produce his best jumps under pressure.

“To get over those feelings, you have to accept that they're there. As soon as you start to overthink your somersaults and twists, that’s when things can start going wrong.

“I can honestly say that in terms of competition, diving it's 90 percent mental. I know plenty of divers that are so talented in training, they could probably be an Olympic champion. But as soon as you say it's competition time, it's time to step on the board, the nerves creep in and they don’t perform.

“You’ve got to let things go and go onto autopilot."

But in order to achieve the best dives, athletes must push the boundaries in training.

Goodfellow is not different to this, and his desire to improve and increase the difficulty in his dives has led to some hairy moments in the pool.

“I've been coughing up blood after I've hit the water, but I’ve never had a head injury," he said.

“The more you push yourself, the more there will be risks. So to me, if I don't wipe out every now and then, then I’m probably doing something wrong!" - Dan Goodfellow to Olympic Channel.

Partnering Tom Daley at Rio 2016

The diving prodigy took the whole of 2015 off with a nerve problem in his shoulder that at one stage looked as though it could end his career.

But a successful surgery meant that he could return to the sport in 2016, and was given the opportunity to partner Tom Daley in the synchronised 10m platform.

Even without a significant injury layoff, the prospect of partnering the sport’s most famous face was daunting. But Goodfellow was up to the task.

After only one month training together, the pair made a splash at the Beijing World Cup, winning bronze to qualify their place at the Olympics.

The pair went on to become the first Brits to medal in every 10m synchro event of the FINA World Series.

“There were good and bad things about competing with Tom,” Goodfellow admitted.

“The best thing was his experience, and number two he’s an incredible, incredible diver. One of the best platform divers there’s ever been." - Dan Goodfellow on diving with Tom Daley.

“But I was only 19 going into my first Olympic Games, and I knew that everyone was going to be watching us because of Tom’s status. So I think there was a lot of extra pressure because you don't want to let him down.

“But as soon as you start to think about who is watching and what people will say, you’ll lose your focus, make mistakes and the game will be over.

Goodfellow’s mental fortitude held up with aplomb at the Rio 2016 Olympics.

In a nerve-wracking competition, they held off a late challenge from Germany to seal the bronze medal on their final jump.

“I just went into the competition with a clear head,” he continued.

“The fewer thoughts, the better. I don't think I even knew how many people were in the audience because I was so focused on what I had to do.

“We are very calm as a team. We don't talk massively, and we aren’t the kind of competitors to get really agitated or get really worked up. So I think at the Olympics that calm outlook helped us to deliver when it really mattered."

Transitioning from platform to springboard

Keen to build on their momentum, the diving duo continued to work together after the Olympics, and won the 2018 Commonwealth Games gold medal in Australia’s Gold Coast.

However, that was to be their last act as a team.

In 2019, injury and team changes meant that Goodfellow switched from 10m platform diving to the 3m springboard, where he would pair up with Jack Laugher in the synchronised.

It was another tall order for Goodfellow, given that Laugher won Olympic gold in the 3m synchro alongside Chris Mears at Rio 2016 before taking out the individual silver medal too.

But Mears’ retirement, coupled to a niggling injury, meant squad rotation was the best way forward.

“I'd been having problems with my triceps and had operations on my elbow and on my shoulder,” Goodfellow said.

“Platform diving took a lot out of me and it felt like a constant battle to stay fit and healthy throughout 2018. Tom was having big struggles with his injuries as well.

“Tom then later had his kid, so he took a bit of time out for that, so when Jack’s synchro partner Chris retired, it all just fit into place that I would fill that gap.

“I'm not a very tall diver, and I'm lucky that I've got the power and the strength to be able to do springboard diving. So my physical attributes match well for both, which isn’t always the case for divers."

Winning a world silver medal

Upcoming talent Matty Lee stepped up to take Goodfellow’s place on the 10m platform team alongside Daley once he had returned to the sport.

In a demonstration of how much the British diving programme has improved over the past couple of Olympic cycles, both of the new pairings quickly qualified Britain’s place in their respective events for the Tokyo 2020 Olympics.

Goodfellow and Laugher sensationally won silver at the 2019 world championships in Gwangju, Korea, despite the former having only started springboard diving again earlier that year.

Given what they achieved in such a short space of time, Goodfellow rates it as one of the finest performances of his career.

Jack Laugher (left) and Dan Goodfellow (right) won 3m Springboard Synchronised silver at the 2019 world championships in Gwangju, Korea.

“I think that medal for us was a relief really, as it took the pressure off us,” he admitted.

“In a sport like diving anything can happen, and even the best diver in the world can get a dive wrong, and end up not qualifying or medalling. 

“All it takes is for you to wake up and you're a bit ill, or have a rough night’s sleep, and you don’t qualify. 

“So for us to step up when we needed to win, and we hadn't really had a very good year up to that, was one of the best moments for me of my career.”

Gaining weight and strength

However ‘filling that gap’ next to Jack wasn’t simply a case of diving off a different board and learning new techniques.

It required a drastic change in body composition for Goodfellow, who needed to increase the amount of power he could produce on the springboard.

“When I was doing platform diving at the Olympics I think I weighed around 59kg, and now I'm about seven, eight kilos heavier than that." - Dan Goodfellow

“You need the extra muscle to be able to force the springboard down and jump higher and spin faster. I’d like to put a little more mass on still.

“When you get put with someone like Jack who is already insanely powerful, you’ve got to essentially keep up with him. So, coming off the platform, putting all that muscle into my legs while also staying injury-free has been a challenge.

“I do get a bit more frustrated learning springboard diving, but I'd say I actually enjoy it more than I did the platform.”

Olympic postponement benefit

While the coronavirus-enforced postponement of the Tokyo 2020 Olympics has been a tough pill to swallow for the majority of athletes, it provides an opportunity to gain some crucial extra experience for others.

Despite winning world silver in 2019, Goodfellow and Laugher are still getting used to each other as a synchronised pair, and have identified many areas that they can improve upon.

“For me, the delay is undoubtedly a positive, and I think the same is true for many of the younger athletes actually.

“I've had that transition, and the extra year will give me more time to try and master the springboard.

“We may have won a silver medal at the world champs, but I still wouldn't call myself experienced. We will get more competitions under our belt, and get closer to where we want to be.” - Dan Goodfellow to Olympic Channel.

Staying in touch through gaming

While athletes were separated from teammates and coaches during the lockdown, the Leeds-based pair had a novel way of staying in touch. Gaming.

“I'm a really big gamer, so is Jack,” Goodfellow offered.

“We both build our own PCs and we play online all the time. Lots of different games. Sometimes we take our laptops away with us to competitions to keep us entertained outside of the water.”

That is certainly one way of staying in ’sync’ with your diving partner!

Closing the gap on China

At the Rio 2016 Olympics, China won seven out of the eight gold medals on offer.

Only Laugher and Chris Mears were able to overcome their Asian counterparts, but Goodfellow sees no reason why Britain can’t become Olympic champions again.

“In diving it's so hard to predict anything,” he said.

“You train for years, and the competition comes down to two to three seconds each dive and then you're done.

“On the day, when it comes down to it, people make mistakes and all the pressure is on China because they are expected to win.

“Jack and I are capable of winning any colour medal. I know that it's just whoever is able to hold their nerve on the day and deliver.”

With Russia another country that has also closed the gap on China in recent years, Tokyo could see one of the most competitive Olympic diving competitions ever.

But until then, Goodfellow will be keen to make every extra day of preparation count. If he secures an Olympic medal on the springboard, there is little doubt that he will take all the headlines he deserves.


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