Diving double-act rises above TV's 'top bombing' ad to give Britain some badly needed success

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The Independent Online

To many armchair sports fans an appreciation of competitive diving has seldom stretched beyond comedian Peter Kay's "top bombing" in a beer commercial.

To many armchair sports fans an appreciation of competitive diving has seldom stretched beyond comedian Peter Kay's "top bombing" in a beer commercial.

As a niche aquatic sport which hinges on an arcane judging system and has failed to produce a British Olympic medal for more than 40 years, it has been easily made into a figure of fun.

However, such cynicism was brushed aside yesterday as Peter Waterfield and Leon Taylor reflected on their silver medal in the synchronised diving, which registered the British team's only success on Saturday's opening day of the Games.

In fact, it was the only victory for Britain in a disastrous weekend that saw: Tim Henman lose in the first round of the tennis; Sarah Price and Katy Sexton fail to qualify for the final in the 100m backstroke; gymnast Beth Tweddle fail to go through to the next round; Nicole Cook come fifth in the women's cycling road race; Sydney hero Ian Peel fail to qualify for the trap final in the shooting; Georgina Singleton, going for bronze in the women's 52kg judo competition, lose in the repercharge final; and Craig Fallon out in the first round of the 60kg judo.

The diving pair, however, who were unmistakable on the board with a difference in height of almost half a foot, finished just behind the dominant Chinese in the 10m synchronised event which requires all the skill of a solo dive with the added demand of having to perform the descent in unison.

They now hope their achievements will see synchronised diving, introduced in Sydney four years ago, emerge from its association with the widely lampooned synchronised swimming of rictus grins and waterproof make-up. "It's great to get a minority sport in the limelight and show people what it takes to win a gold medal and raise interest in what we do," said Taylor, 26.

Their medal feat on Saturday night was all the more impressive because of the added pressure of carrying the final British medal hope on day one and diving after the Greek pair whose consistently low marks prompted the crowd to jeer the judges.

In their final dive the nerves appeared to show and they nearly lost second place to the Australians by performing a staggered dive frowned upon by judges. "If we had got the timing better we could have been winners," said Waterfield.

The silver medal represents the highlight in a partnership that started nine years ago when coaches, undeterred by their height difference, put them together at a training camp after noticing similarities in technique. Taylor, from Sheffield, won silver in the 10m solo event at the Commonwealth Games in Manchester while Waterfield, 23, from Southampton, claimed gold. Both men have been fired by an ambition to win at Athens since they were edged into fourth place in Sydney in a judging system which it was claimed favoured the goliath nations of diving such as Germany, China and the United States.

The couple's medal success is the first sign of success from changes bordering on the revolutionary in British aquatic sports following the nadir of Sydney 2000. British Olympic bosses have hired the Australian swimming guru Bill Sweetenham, and his compatriot Steve Foley has been pushing for success in diving events by drilling his team of seven. Taylor and Waterfield train six hours a day for six days a week but, because they live 200 miles apart, are only together for one week in the month.

Taylor has twice undergone major surgery on a shoulder injury and his partner has recently recovered from an ankle injury sustained during a session of ballet which divers take part in to enhance poise and leg strength.

The British can claim to have set the standard in one respect. The trickiest of dives - a headache-inducing two-and-half-somersault with twist in the pike position known as the Twister - was pioneered by Taylor and has been adopted by all his rivals.