Courtesy: LEN Media
At the age of 13 years and 7 months, Oleksii Sereda has become the youngest gold medalist ever in the history of the diving European Championships. The Ukrainian ‘wonder-kid’ seemed to compete without nerves, he came first in the prelims and performed six outstanding dives in the 10m final in front of 2,000 cheering fans. He lowered the age record of Tom Daley (GBR) who won the title aged 13 years and 10 months in Eindhoven 2008. In Kyiv, Russia finished atop in the medal charts as they claimed a 6th gold on the last day, courtesy of Uliana Kliueva and Vitaliia Koroleva in the 3m synchro.
Medalists, Day 7
Men’s 10m platform: 1. Oleksii Sereda (UKR) 488.85, 2. Benjamin Auffret (FRA) 474.90, 3. Ruslan Ternovoi (RUS) 445.25
Oleksii Sereda faced a mounting task: once he had got into the spotlight after his 4th place finish at the World Championships, he was expected to secure a golden ending to the European Championships. He was supposed to do it in front of a capacity crowd of 2,000 people, all cheering for the young home hero with sky-high expectations, especially after his flawless morning performance which put him to the first place so he dived last in each round.
This should have been a big challenge for any diver – but for a 13-year old that seemed to be a cruel test. Passing it required six outstanding dives as Sereda’s DDs were significantly lower than any of his rivals – with a height of 151cm and weighing 43kg, he was the only one among the favorites with a DD2.8 jump and with no 3.4-3.6s in the mix.
But it turned out that at the age of 13 nerves might work absolutely differently as in the world of the seniors. Sereda just came out and did he was at best: diving. No pressure, no worries. And ultimately: no mistakes. His rivals committed smaller and bigger ones. Almost each of them had at least one dreadful jump and that narrowed the competition to a two-horse race between Sereda and 2017 champion Benjamin Auffret.
The Frenchman, 10 years older than the ‘wonder-kid’, led by 1.05 points at half-way and by 1.95 after the fourth round. In fact, it was in his hands since he had a 3.3 and 3.6DD to perform, while Sereda had a couple of 3.2s remaining. But Auffret shook a bit in Round 5, he came up with a good but not a great dive for 75.90 while Sereda showed that he was absolutely free of tensions, he made his armstand dive the best of the evening, all but one judge awarded him 9.5, and this 91.20-pointer set him to win the event.
Auffret could have hit back but only got 7.5s to his last dive so all the Ukrainian youngster needed was a 68-point attempt to secure gold. In this final it would have been an underperformed jump from him – and the Liko Centre erupted soon: Sereda’s entry was as clean as ever and the 8.5s meant that the young boy wrote history by becoming the youngest-ever champion in history.
It was a bit funny to see the little boy on the top of the podium as his head was still in one line with the other two medalists. The all-smile federation president, the man behind the entire delivery of this event, Igor Lysov almost had to look down to the young champion while placing the gold medal around his neck.
It was something similar how Tom Daley stunned the diving community in March 2008 in Eindhoven when he won the European gold aged 13 years and 10 months (and added the world title a year later in Rome). Now Sereda lowered his ‘record’ to 13 years and 7 months. In fact he was born on 25 December – so he is just ‘old’ enough to be eligible to compete at the Olympics in Tokyo (the year of birth is taken into count when the minimum age-limit of 14 is determined). Thus, besides Daley and Aleksandar Bondar (Russian bronze medalist in Gwangju), Europe just sends another brilliant talent to the battle ground to challenge the Chinese next summer.
The bronze medal came down to an in-house battle of the Russians: despite a bad miss in the second round, Ruslan Ternovoi could climb back to finish third, just 0.2 points ahead of Nikita Shleikher. Romania’s Constantin Popovici, the only one who already has a fine high diving career too, came fifth with no big misses but with just good dives.
Minor moves and smaller mistakes made the difference in the women’s 3m synchro. The Germans had a better start and kept the lead throughout four rounds, though the gap between Lena Hentschel and Tina Punzel and the Russian duo was never larger than 2-3 points. They might have had a bit larger advantage but Punzel’s lighter error pulled down their marks for their penultimate jump. Anyway, round 4 seemed to be a kind of ‘death valley’ for the top three as all three medal-contenders gained the lowest marks.
Home favorites, Viktoriya Kesar – celebrating her birthday – and Anna Pysmenska came up with a very good last dive (turned out to be the highest scoring one in the final) but the Germans did almost as good and kept 1.50 points from their advantage.
Now it was up to Uliana Kliueva and Vitaliia Koroleva to grab the title and the Russians didn’t make any mistake. Finished their with a nice dive, especially their synchro points were high enough to earn another gold for their team, the 5th in a row in the last three days of the meet and a second for surprise winner Koroleva within 24 hours.
The Russians dominated these Championships. Two years ago here in Kyiv Russia, Great Britain and Germany claimed three golds apiece while last summer in Glasgow Russia held a 5-4 advantage over the Brits in titles. This time Russia, fielding its strongest team unlike most of the other nations, was outstanding and deservedly topped both the medal chart and the Championship Trophy.
Russia 6 2 4 12
Ukraine 3 3 1 7
Germany 2 4 2 8
Netherlands 1 1 0 2
Italy 1 0 1 2
Great Britain 0 2 4 6
France 0 1 0 1
Switzerland 0 0 1 1
Championship Trophy (top 5)
1. Russia 258, 2. Germany 215, 3. Great Britain 189, 4. Ukraine 179, 5. Italy 155.
Oleksii Sereda, Ukraine, gold, 10m platform:
“I’m happy that I could finish on the first place. My third dive was not that good but the others were satisfying.
I wouldn’t say I was not nervous before the competition, if you see differently then you saw it wrong. I was just as nervous as everyone else, I just kept thinking on my dives, wanted to keep my focus and close out any chance to commit any mistakes.
I wasn’t really looking at the other ones’ DDs. As of now, I’ve got used to compete among young divers with the same age as mine where these DDs are the usual ones. The first time I’ve competed with senior divers was at the World Championships and now here at these Europeans, but this did not affect my preparations and my performance. I just try to do my job the best possible and do not really care of the results. But of course, I am happy that I could win, it’s very nice.”
Benjamin Auffret, France, silver, 10m platform:
“I came here for the title so it’s a gold lost and not a silver won, at least I feel like that now. It was a great final, I couldn’t do my best here that’s why it ended like this. Anyway, all credits to Oleksii, he is an amazing diver. I’m not bothered that a 13-year old bettered me – it’s not about the age but about the abilities and he got all the skills already which make him a great diver. It’s so good to have such a talented young competitor join us, we will have a lot of fun in the years coming.”
Ruslan Ternovoi, Russia, bronze, 10m platform:
“I’m not really happy now, I missed some of my dives. If my second one is better I could have even got the silver – but after such a bad dive I should be satisfied with this bronze.”
Uliana Kliueva, Russia, gold, 3m synchro:
“We are very satisfied, especially because it was the last final. I’m not really consent with everything in the competition, I missed some dives, so I’m happy with the gold medal and now we can relax. This is the most important!”
Tina Punzel, Germany, silver, 3m synchro:
“It’s a silver for us. I think we did a pretty solid performance with no mistakes. We wanted to retain our silver medal from last year and we achieved that so we are really happy. It seems everyone could get her individual dives done well so we need to work on our synchronisation and tackle the smaller mistakes for next year.
I watched most of the competition as I thought it would motivate us to give everything. I saw we were very constant throughout the final but I was very nervous before the last jump. We did that well at last, I think. We kind of recovered after our bad days at the World Championships, today we were much better than in Korea.
Our first thought was after the competition: we have done it, now comes the vacation. Three weeks with no jumps – I’m pretty much looking forward to it!”
Viktoriya Kesar, Ukraine, bronze, 3m synchro:
“It was a simple day with the basic warm-up and the basic dives. Now I can finally feel, it’s my birthday and this bronze medal is the best gift for me! I was trying to do my best, our synchronization was fine but my individual dives weren’t really perfect.”