National Head diving coach Chava Sobrino said the six NSW Institute of Sport (NSWIS) scholarship divers representing Australia at the Aquatic World Championships starting in Doha this Friday were competing with the full weight of expectation on their shoulders.

NSWIS is represented in the 12-strong national squad by dual Olympic medallist, Melissa Wu, Sam Fricker, Brittany O’Brien, Kurtis Matthews, Nikita Hains, and world champion high diver Rhiannan Iffland – and Sobrino, who is based at the Institute, said it was crucial for Australia’s Paris Olympic Games program that they perform.

Australia has already qualified quotas [by country] in the Women’s 3-Metre Springboard (x2), the Men’s 10-Metre Platform (x2), Women’s 3-Metre Springboard (x1) and Men’s 3-Metre Springboard (x1) through the team’s performances at the 2023 World Aquatics Championships and the 2023 Oceania Championships.

At Doha, the Aussies will aim to qualify synchronised teams in the Men’s and Women’s 3-Metre Springboard as well as the Men’s and Women’s platform events. Australia is still eligible to qualify one position in the Women’s 10-Metre Platform and one position in the Men’s 3-Metre Springboard. Sobrino said while it would be a tough assignment, it was not beyond the team.

“The expectations are high because there’s a lot at stake – and that’s Olympic spots,” said Sobrino. “There are some individual placings we need to get for the Olympic Games,  and synchro as well.

“That’s why I say it’s a nervous wait, and all countries are in the same situation – everyone is trying to get that Olympic placing, the quota spot. The divers are aware of it, and, as you’d imagine, they all want to do well.”

While Australia’s campaign will include reigning 10-metre men’s world champion, Cassiel Rosseau from Queensland, Sobrino said his  NSWIS athletes have the ability – and skill – to make a positive splash, including Melissa Wu who’ll be competing as an individual for the first time since she won a bronze medal at the Tokyo Olympic Games.

“Melissa hasn’t competed internationally for a long, long time –  since the Olympic Games in Tokyo –  so it will be interesting to see Melissa back in action,” said Sobrino of the four-time Olympian.

“She finished just behind Nikita Hains in the Australian trials, but that was actually a good result because she came from behind to make the podium.

“Melissa had a disappointing semi final, but came back very strong in the last three dives. Then, in the final, she had a problem with the second dive  . . . she had a few issues with that dive . . . but her comeback was one of the biggest I’ve ever seen.

“It showed she’s a fighter. And situations like that are the ones where experience comes to fruition, and in Mel’s case she not only has a lot of experience, but she never gives up.

“In Doha I just want her to qualify in both the spots she’s supposed to qualify for: the synchronised 10m (with Charli Petrov from Victoria) and her individual spot.”

Sobrino was as equally adamant Fricker would use the championships to continue his ascent as a world class diver.

“Sam is getting better with experience,” said Sobrino. “He’s focussing in the 3-metre springboard synchro event (with Kurtis Mathews) in Doha. He’s trying to get that spot, and he is putting all of his resources into getting it.

“Kurtis has another path because he’s also trying to seal the individual spot, and while he’s a very strong springboard diver Kurtis is also a bit of a mystery.

“He was at the Texas A&M university, and while he always did well over there he hasn’t competed much for Australia. This is going to be a massive event for him, and at the moment I don’t know what to expect . . . but . . .what I do know is  Kurtis has a big task, he has to secure two spots.”

Sobrino said he was excited by the progression of Nikita Hains, saying she’ll take an extra quality into these championships.

“Nikita is a different diver,” he said. “She’s improved greatly,  especially in the mental aspect, and  she’s really immersed in the culture of NSWIS and everyone can see that in her performances at training.”

Sobrino, who represented Mexico at the 1980 Moscow Olympic Games, said Brittany O’Brien was determined to make an impact in the 1-Metre Springboard event.

“Brittany wants to go back to world championships and replicate what she did in Commonwealth Games [and won silver],” he said. “She’s a really good competitor in the 1-Metre, and what I like about Brittany is she’s a naturally talented athlete, who, as a diver, has a lot of versatility.”

Rhiannan Iffland, a superstar of the world’s adrenaline-charged high diving circuit, rounds out NSWIS’s representatives at Doha. And while her event is not an Olympic event . . . yet . . . Sobrino said the 32 year old brings  a sense of excitement to any event.

“Rhiannan is attempting to become a fourth time world champion,” he enthused. “She’s an amazing athlete and I consider her one of the biggest inspirations for our young athletes. Yes, Diving Australia and NSWIS lucky to have her.

“She’s incredible, and it’s so good to have the team. I believe she can win again, which will be amazing for her. However, we need to appreciate there’s  a lot of competition, especially from the Canadians.”

Daniel Lane, NSWIS

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