Steve de Witt

In the 80’s my good mate Charles Standing became a Diving Springbok and dragged me to Newlands. We’d been gymnasts and he reckoned I’d enjoy the diving boards. At SA Champs that year I nearly had a heart attack seeing Craig Vaughan’s 3½ sumi’s from the 10 metre platform. How could anyone be so crazy? This was a sport I had to get into.

A few Nationals followed – often in the company of the late Rob Fyfe (former Empire Games Diver) and Rhett Gardener. Their deep love for plunging from high made a big impact on me. A swashbuckling attitude, mad courage and reckless abandon were minimum requirements.

Ron would spend Sundays poolside at de Jongh working his way through a cooler box of beer before going up the ladder to “perform a wee dive.” I’d beg him not to but he’d wobble up anyway. Then bang in a twister from 10m. How do you beat such a man in a comp - when he’s sober?

Those were golden years. Coaches like Adrienne Wilson, Rob & Anthea Stewart and later Lena Woodward did what they could to prevent me from killing myself on the 10m tower. At St George’s Park I landed flat on my back performing a 3½. I surfaced coughing up blood to find Adrienne standing poolside like a giraffe drinking water. ‘Don’t you EVER do that again!’ she screamed at me. Sorry for all the stress I gave you, guys.

My diving career fell during the sports boycott when they weren’t picking national teams so I headed abroad. In Germany, I found Margie Lindley diving professionally and spent a week there. Being set alight for the 'Fire Dive' and plunging off a theme park’s 30 metre ladder wasn’t my idea of fun but Charles Standing excelled at it.

Reporting to Crystal Palace, I was issued with a Speedo and told to wander around until training started. In the cafeteria, the chef asked if I was ‘the new guy from South Africa.’ Surprised but pleased, I ordered lunch which apparently ‘came with the contract.’ He then accused me of being too small for a Centre. Turns out I wasn’t rugby league’s latest recruit. Miffed, he handed me the bill.

Chris Snode, former world cup champ, was head coach and I needed a lot of coaching, he sighed. Bob Morgan, serial Olympian and Euro champ, said I’d obviously learnt to dive with monkeys falling off cliffs in Africa.

‘I’m putting you in the Junior Squad,’ said Chris. ‘Now go and do 100 forward jumps and 100 back jumps off the poolside.’ Jumps! – not even dives. I did as told with a tribe of 10 year-olds at the far side of the pool. Around the diving boards far away a crop of teenage girls giggled mercilessly. 200 jumps completed, Chris sent me home. It was a month before he allowed me onto the diving platform.

Fast-forward a year or two and I finally found my rip entry. We dived comps across the UK and I slipped into the happy community that is British diving. Crystal Palace had trampoline rooms, physios, video analysis, sports psychologists and world-class coaches. Old Colonel Townend, a 1936 Olympian, had a picture in his study of himself and Hitler. Also the Olympic flag flew above Wembley Stadium during the 1948 Games. A small plaque read, ‘Presented to Colonel Townsend in appreciation for organizing the Olympic Games.’

He built Crystal Palace thereafter and now owned an exclusive prep school where he employed me as Phys Ed teacher. Mick Jagger shouted at me for forcing his little daughter to swim across the pool and the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia called me a tyrant for making him run around the football field.

Back at the pool, we were coached by all manner of visiting coaches, some arriving with their national teams for training camps. Ron O’Brien suggested I open my eyes when diving. It helped. The cliff-monkey won the South England champs but only because Bob Morgan was injured and couldn’t compete. Being a Saffer they wouldn’t let me into England Champs which Bob duly won, restoring order.

Comps in Europe followed, including Euro Club Champs which we won ‘despite your being in the team,’ joked Chris. Blake Aldridge was our star junior who went on to the Olympics and Red Bull Cliff Diving. Then a comp in Monaco where plans went awry. Poolside was a gorgeous actress in a bikini; a summer romance blossomed. The divers returned to England without me.

Come ’92 and a Barcelona training camp with the British squad. There I had my most surreal experience – diving in clouds on top of Monjuic Hill. The Olympic Pool’s up there and standing on the platform you look out over the tops of buildings; very disconcerting. As if 10m wasn’t high enough already.

Olympic Trials followed in Pretoria, the selectors choosing only Craig Vaughan for the team. Note to aspiring divers – attaining the qualifying Olympic DD is not enough, the selectors want much more. I was genuinely chuffed for Craig; it capped a fine career.

As he left for Barcelona, the actress summoned from Hollywood so across I went, diving a comp here and there in Cali. Then back to SA for Nationals the next year. There I saw the debut of Rob Costa, a graceful young diver who later bagged a slew of Masters world titles. He came close to winning nationals on his first attempt but the judges felt sorry for me and let me win it.

It was time to exit the diving world, I felt. It’d been a long career competing on three continents and a lot of great times. But the psychological pressure of consistently diving 10m had taken its toll. 

Here I am decades later, retired in Cape Town, finding this FB Page with posts by old friends and photos from the past. Hi there, me old diving friends! My platform days are long gone, like the actress, but once I was young and in fine fettle, as were you, it’s been fun reminiscing about the past.