From the northern Italian diving hub of Bolzano emerges yet another story of familial success in the sport of diving. First there was Carlo and Klaus Dibiasi, now there’s Giorgio and Tania Cagnotto. We recently spoke with Tania to learn about her journey to the top, what’s involved in the upper echelons of diving, and how it makes its way as a water sport next to the big names that make swimming popular.
In the annals of Italian diving, there are two names that jump out – Dibiasi and Cagnotto. Between the two of them, Klaus Dibiasi and Giorgio Cagnotto are responsible of all nine of Italy’s Olympic diving medals, and until 2005, all five of the nation’s World Championship diving medals.
Then along came Tania. In 2005 at the Montreal World Champs, she became the first Italian woman to win a World Championship diving medal (a 3m springboard bronze). At the next three World Championships, she went on to pick up another 3 bronze medals and a silver, and in 2013 she had her best-ever World Championship, coming away with two silvers in Barcelona (1m springboard, 3m synchro).
Her surname? Cagnotto. Daughter of Giorgio.
To have followed in her father’s footsteps and make history makes Tania immensely proud. “Many people identify my name with diving, and it makes me feel ‘important’, but thanks to the way I’ve been brought up and the lessons I’ve learned, I’ve never let it go to my head.”
In a country where names like Pellegrini and Magnini have cachet when it comes to aquatic accomplishments, it’s hard for a diver to get noticed amongst the pool lanes. And perhaps the only thing common between diving and swimming is the fact that they both take place in a pool. But that’s where the similarity ends.
In swimming, you race against all seven of your competitors in the pool at the same time, most of the competition is in the water, speed is the only factor that determines who wins, and the outcome is determined by one simple (relatively) indisputable, electronic measure – time. The diver, on the other hand, has the pool to him/herself, most of the competition takes place in the air, form is the only factor that determines who wins, and you win or lose based on the evaluation of a group of (non-electronic) human judges.
It’s a sport of the physical and the artistic, of form and fortitude, precision and creativity.
“You have to be physically light and have powerful, responsive muscles,” says Tania. “And mentally you have to be able to deal with the pressure – a competition is not decided until the last dive.”
It’s a fact she’s learned the hard way, more than once missing out on major medals by the narrowest of margins. At the 2012 Olympics, she was in the bronze medal position after the third dive, dropped points on the fourth to slip down a position, and despite delivering a better fifth dive than her competitor, she ended fourth by 0.2 point. Likewise at the 2013 World Championships in Barcelona, she led going into the final dive, only to end up second by 0.1 point.
When we’re talking about 300-plus points in total, those are awfully small margins … decided by a team of judges. But such is the sport.
“To tell the truth,” she reflects, “I believe that in London I needed a bit of luck, but what’s done is done, it doesn’t help to look back now, I always look forward to the next challenge. I remain convinced that I had a great competition in London, but the judges felt that my fourth dive was inferior to the Mexican’s. I worked really hard for that competition, I have no regrets, and I’m proud of the result.”
2012 was Tania’s fourth Olympic appearance, after debuting in Sydney 2000 at the age of 15 as the youngest athlete on the Italian team. It is “undoubtedly” the best moment of her career, and there’s still a dream-like hint in her recollection when she looks back: “It’s difficult to describe the sensations and emotions that you feel.”
Tania competes on all three boards, the 1m and 3m springboards, and 10m platform, with the latter two being Olympic events. “For the 10m board you need a lot of courage, the impact when you enter the water is not negligible,” says Tania with some degree of understatement. “For the springboard you need a lot of technique.”
So how is it in a major competition like the Olympics as you climb the steps and walk out on to the board? “I try to stay calm and focused, but I don’t always succeed,” she confesses, “so I follow a kind of ritual – I try to go through all the precise movements of the dive in my head.”
But even if you’re calm and well-prepared, things may still not go according to plan. “You can of course arrive at a competition in form and feeling good, but other factors can come into play that change things. It’s not like a sport where a stopwatch tells you more or less where you will place. That’s why concentration is so important.”
What else, according to Tania, does it take to get to the top in diving? “Passion and determination every day. Work always produces results, how you go about it and the time you devote to it make the difference. Ultimately, I believe that there are two fundamental requirements – to be self-critical (in order to continue improving) and perseverance.”
A bit of talent like Tania’s might also influence things, of course, along with a few of her other characteristics – she says she’s “calm and focused”, “well-proportioned physically”, “determined and stubborn”, and “full of passion for the sport and for the people I love”.
Not bad as a recipe for life, it seems, never mind diving…