In 2017, Proygorov felt the need to master the altitude from the high diving platform that towers nine times higher. By 2018, the Ukrainian was reaching the podium at the High Diving World Cup, earning him a place in the Red Bull Cliff Diving World Series. 

In February 2022,  Prygorov’s life changed forever when his family was forced to flee their home in Kharkiv after the invasion that threatened their freedom and their safety.  Almost immediately he received offers of assistance from across the international diving community.  Friends in Italy offered temporary assistance; the Canadian federation assured him and his family of a permanent home and an extended training opportunity in Montreal.

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Canadian National Team Coach Stephane Lapointe spoke about the role of Diving Canada in their extraordinarily generous offer of assistance to  Prygorov and to other divers who were forced to leave Ukraine. 

Lapointe is the head coach of CAMO Diving Club based in Laval, Quebec. He was a competitive diver until age 18 but he had extensive experience in high diving shows until his passion turned to coaching, his profession for the last 20 years. 

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Lapointe is enjoying recent success as the coach of Molly Carlson who won the High Diving World Cup in Fort Lauderdale.  Lapointe also coaches bronze medalists Jessica Macauley and Simone Leathead who finished 8th in the 23 diver field.  All three athletes will likely be selected to compete at the World Aquatics Championships - Fukuoka 2023 this July.   

Lapointe explained that the Canadian diving federation reached out immediately after the invasion to several Ukrainian divers with a simple but thoughtful message:  “How can we help you guys?”  According to Lapointe, Canadian coaches and federation staff members offered them the necessary assistance to help them obtain a Canadian visa so that they could take refuge in Montreal assuring them that they will be able to live and train in complete safety. 

“Oleksiy joined us in October 2022 shortly after his visa was approved," Lapointe said. "He and his family are so happy to be in Montreal to have a home and to have a team to train with. We have a great facility in Montreal with a 20m platform for high diving training.  We have a bunch of great international athletes who like to work together including Aidan Heslop from Great Britain. All of these athletes are motivating each other every day at the pool so this has been a great result for everyone.”

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Lapointe points to the desire the Ukrainian Olympian brings to the group: “Oleksiy trains so hard.  Being an Olympic medalist, he is disciplined and he trains super hard.  He is a great addition to our club.  I am really happy with how he is diving in Fort Lauderdale.  I know that he is appreciative of the Canadian federation providing a home for him and his family and a great training opportunity for him so that he can continue his career in high diving.”

Prygorov’s Olympic credentials include an Olympic Bronze medal that he and Illya Kvasha earned in the men’s synchronized 3m springboard event at the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games.   Prygorov said that he was happy to see that his friend Troy Dumais (USA) earned a bronze medal at his final Olympics ahead of him and his partner Kvasha 4th place finish in the synchronized 3m springboard event at the London 2012 Games. Prygorov says the offers guaranteed his safety and enabled his career as a high diver to continue.

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How did the invasion of your country affect you and your diving career?

At the beginning of the war, I was contacted by friends from an Italian diving club in Trieste, and by a few Canadians. Many people expressed their concern about my well-being but these two groups offered to help me relocate our family to their country.  So for about 6 months my family and I lived in Trieste, Italy. It was a convenient location and it was about the same time that we were travelling around the world for different competitions. 

How did your relocation affect your participation in the Red Bull World Series?

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I caught up with the Red Bull Cliff Diving World Series event in September 2022 in Polignano a Mare, Italy and shortly thereafter I accepted the invitation from the Canadians.  I waited a bit for my visa, but once approved my family and I moved directly to Montreal. Although it has been a challenge for us, especially travelling with a 5-year-old, it was an easy move and it’s been fantastic living and training in Canada.

Where are you living now?

Image Source: Montreal with the Olympic stadium in the foreground (Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images)

I am living with my family and also training in Montreal.  We are thankful to be hosted by the Canadian diving community.  My wife and my 5-year-old son are now living in an apartment complex.  It is the same complex where another diver from Ukraine is also living with her husband. I waited anxiously for my visa and then we moved to Montreal. It has been a really big challenge and we are worried about our son, but he is doing so well in Montreal.

What about your parents?

Oh, actually it was super, super tough for me because when we went to Trieste, our parents were not able to come with us.  It was about two months later that mother came to Trieste to stay with us and to help us with our son, but my father was alone at home in Kharkiv.  She moved back to Ukraine when we left for Montreal.  We continue to support them and send as much as we can including food. 

Tragically, my father passed away in February of this year.  He was only 69 years old and I always thought he was healthy. I am sure it was because he was worried about the war and also worried about being apart from us.

This was very stressful for me because I was not able to go to the funeral and to say goodbye to him. It was a bit tough for me, but I know he is in a place where he is happy and can see from the sky all that I'm doing right now. That's why I'm enjoying this big smile. My mother is in Kharkiv but is only staying there until she receives her visa to travel to Canada to be with us since my father has passed. 

How many years have you been diving?

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My background was the 3m springboard and of course, the 3m springboard synchro event which I competed in during the Beijing and London Olympic Games.  I started competing in the Red Bull Cliff Diving World Series in 2017. 

How is your diving after this traumatic transition?

My diving is really good although I may have lost a couple of months of training. I would like to say I'm good.  I'm planning to introduce my new dive at this World Aquatics event. I have used the dive in the Red Bull Cliff Diving World Series and I hope to use it as my optional dive at the World Aquatics Championships in Japan.

What's your expectation for Fukuoka if you qualify in Fort Lauderdale? 

First of all, we are here competing and we need to qualify for Fukuoka by doing our best.  There are a lot of athletes who bring already difficult dives to Fort Lauderdale.  There will and there should be a lot of friendly fighting, but fighting together like a family. I think I know what I can do to improve my dives.  I know the things that I need to work on.  I told you about my new dive so let's see. I will keep working and working harder than ever.

(Postscript: Prygorov finished 9th at the High Diving World Cup in Fort Lauderdale, qualifying for the upcoming World Aquatics Championships)

When did you arrive in Florida to prepare for this competition?

I arrived in Miami about 10 days ago and I arrived early so that I could practice on the tower. Fort Lauderdale high diving coach Steve Lobue is close to me. I recall competing in Grand Prix events in 2010 and 2011 and I am familiar with this pool, but of course before the recent renovations.

And when did you dive off the tower for the first time? 

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A little more than a week ago shortly after I arrived, I also came in January here for two weeks with my family. I showed them what's going on here.  In March, I came here for training camp so I have had some experience with this tower. 

How does the tower compare with cliff diving? 

To be honest, I'm always looking for high diving opportunities, but especially cliff diving. I've already had a lot of experience in the pool and I have always been able to push myself in the pool. I'm looking for cliff diving right because the cliff is something new, something that I've never done before. I enjoy extreme circumstances.

How many dives typically would you take as a practice? 

Usually, I'm doing three, four, sometimes five. It's really a challenge for my body from the 27m.  I prefer to do three days with two or three dives then take a rest.