Gulf divers make a splash
Brightest Middle East talent mixes with the world's best at the Diving World Series in Doha.
Last Modified: 25 Mar 2009 07:10 GMT

Qatar's Saleh concentrating before his first attempt in the 3m semi-final [AL JAZEERA]
In the world of diving, making a big splash is sure to earn a diver hefty point deductions.

But when young Kuwaiti diver Rashid Al Harbi, 14, made an aborted attempt and dropped into the pool at the Fina Diving World Series in Doha, a man clad in white robes stood up and started clapping loudly.

The crowd quickly joined in and a roar of approval sounded through the Hamad Aquatic Centre.

The three regional wild card entries into the field of world class divers made a real splash at this two day event, the first of its kind to be held in the Middle East.

Big opportunity

Along with Al Harbi, young Qatari diving hope Abdelhamid Shady Saleh, 13, was the talk of the men's 3 metre springboard semi-final.

"They are really cute," Italian star diver Tania Cagnotto said, echoing the crowd’s sentiments.

"This is a really big opportunity for them to dive with the best divers in the world," added Cagnotto, who would later go on to claim the bronze medal in the women’s three-metre synchronised springboard final.

Walking towards the mixed zone after his competition, Al Harbi barely reached up to the shoulders of some of the other divers, who put a comforting hand around the youngster.

"Yes, I was a little bit scared because it was the first time for me in such a big competition," admitted the Kuwaiti diver

"And it is a little scary diving in front of so many people.

"But it was a good chance for me and I am very happy, I won’t forget this."

The Kuwaiti youngster Al Harbi in mid-dive [AL JAZEERA]
Rare chances

With Middle Eastern sports cities like Doha hosting ever more world class sports events, young local athletes such as Al Harbi and Saleh are increasingly being given rare chances to participate against the best athletes in the world.

Whilst some athletes welcome the opportunity, experts point to good timing and coaching as crucial factors so that youngsters do not get overtly discouraged by big losses.

For FINA Executive Director Cornel Marculescu, moving such world class competitions into new markets is a key component to spreading the appeal of the sport.

"This is exactly what we are looking to do: develop diving around the world," the swimming supremo told Al Jazeera.

"Diving is a fantastic sport and this gives opportunities to countries in the region to take part.

"These local athletes we see didn't take part for the first time, they were also at the Junior World Championships. I think they need to compete against the best to improve."

Qatari diver Saleh agreed. "I liked to dive against the best in the world, it was good for me," he said with a confident smile.

"I have been diving for four years and I want to go to the Olympics and do a big dive, maybe get a gold medal."

Saleh gets his first taste of the media [AL JAZEERA]
Australian hero

One diver who knows that feeling is Australia's Beijing Olympic gold medallist Mathew Mitcham.

"These local boys are very good for their age," he told Al Jazeera.

"They have a lot of talent and they could be good competition for us when they get older."

Mitcham completed an impressive 6 jumps in his men’s 10 metre platform semi-final to lead the field going into the final of the competition on the second day, where he was beaten to the gold medal by the narrowest of margins by Chinese diver Luxin Zhao. 

It was indeed a golden competition for the Chinese, who swept all eight gold medals on offer and also picked up three silver and one bronze medal.

For Italian diver Cagnotto, that supremacy is deserved because of the rigorous training culture the Chinese have in place.

"They have a different culture, different lives. They practice since they are four years old, eight hours a day. So it is right that they win everything."

But while nothing much changed on the winner's podium and all the gold medals on offer went to China, the competition offered a reminder that other nations are also keen on developing their own generation of star divers.

"The local boys are doing really well," Britain’s young Olympian Tom Daley offered in encouragement.

"You have to keep working hard, that’s all you can do.

"The first big competition is always quite scary, but once you know how it is you can practice that fear away," said Daley, who famously competed at the Beijing Olympics as a 14 year old.

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