Canada’s depth in high diving was apparent at last year's World Aquatics Championships in Fukuoka, Japan. Last year, its women placed second, third, and fourth behind Rhiannan Iffland, a three-time world champion from Australia.

Image Source: Istvan Derencsenyi/World Aquatics

But the story isn’t why Canada is so good. The real story is that Canada pushing to expand high diving around the world – even if it’s not in the Olympics yet. And even if it’s not funded by the government.

Here's how.

First, It Built a Program Specifically for High Diving

– which had never been done.

But the country didn’t have a tower. “How do you start a high diving program when your highest platform is 10 meters?” asked Olivier Morneau-Ricard, project director at Diving Canada. So in 2020, a 20m platform was installed at the Montreal Olympic stadium, about a week before the Covid shutdown.

Then, Diving Canada Established Three Junior International High Diving Events

– all within a year.

In December 2022, when Montreal hosted the Junior World Championships in traditional diving, the federation told FINA it wanted to add a junior high diving invitational to the schedule. FINA said okay, but it wasn’t an official part of the world championships. Nevertheless, 32 teenagers from 10 nations competed on 12 meters or 15 meters, depending on their age.

“The response [was] just sheer, utter excitement,” said Canada’s chief technical officer Mitch Geller, the mastermind behind the high-diving push.

8 Months Later, Canada Built a 15-meter Platform in Lima, Peru

So the nation hosting the 2023 Pan American Games could hold a junior Pan American High Diving Championships before the quadrennial event.

“Now Peru has a permanent platform,” said Morneau. “We’ve just created a hub in South America.”

Four months later, the inaugural CanAMex High Diving Challenge was born in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Juniors competed in the morning and, in the afternoon, senior elites from Canada, Mexico, and the US competed for the right to represent their nations at the 2024 World Championships in Doha, Qatar.

Another Initiative: Canada allowed a few International High Divers to Train in Montreal

- free of charge. They come, they work with high diving head coach Stephane Lapointe, and return home better divers.

In 2022, the group included Oleksiy Prygorov and Nikita Fedotov whom Diving Canada proactively flew to Canada after Russia invaded Ukraine. It also secured their work visas and paid the men’s room and board for two years.

It was primarily a humanitarian effort, but Diving Canada was hoping they’d stay. Their expertise and motivational impact on Canada’s next generation of high divers was indelible.

“They were amazing,” Morneau said. Canada’s junior high diving pipeline now includes 40 to 50 divers – about 25 of which are good enough to compete at nationals. And it’s growing.

I think we have more junior athletes than the rest of the world combined,” Morneau said.

In addition, Canada also has judges, coaches, and trainers “on every single stage of high diving,” said coach Lapointe. “The Federation is not waiting. It’s making things happen – which makes a huge difference.”

That means making sure high divers have access to the towers during national team training. It means flying Lapointe to every competition for the athletes’ safety and to stay on the pulse of the sport.

“Our board is investing,” Lapointe said. Many countries don’t send a full high diving team to the world championships because they don’t have the money. Sometimes athletes have to fund themselves. But Canada will send a full team to worlds – including coaches and support staff.

Other divers have noticed. Jessica Macaulay, for example, earned a bronze medal at the 2019 world championships for Great Britain and moved to Canada in 2020.

“I could see Canada was on the forefront of development,” Macaulay said. “When I switched [nationalities], I gained a coach, teammates, and a support system.

“At the time, a dedicated high-diving coach was pretty much unheard of. They also offered me a small amount to train and compete, which was also unheard of for high diving at that time.

“I felt like high diving was important to Canada, something they were prioritizing,” Macaulay said.

In 2023, Macaulay placed third at the high diving world championships for Canada, behind the Canadian silver medalist Molly Carlson, and ahead of the rising fourth-place Canadian Simone Leathead.

“High diving in Canada exceeded my expectations,” Macaulay said. “I’m so grateful.”

And yet…the wider sports world has yet to take notice.

“It’s not something we yell on rooftops,” Morneau said. “Other than Stephane [Lapointe], Mitch [Geller], and a few others, almost nobody knows exactly what we’re doing on the back end. We just want to develop the sport. The reason it works is because [we] work a lot trying to make this happen. I hope other federations can do the same so we can have more athletes from more countries, more competition, more momentum.”

If and when high diving finally gets added to the Olympic program, it would trigger government funding for most nations. But even so, there might only be two gold medals at stake. Would all the financial risk and energy be worth it?

“It doesn't matter if it's two,” Geller said. “Right now, there’s a huge attrition rate for kids in their mid- to late-teens. High diving provides another avenue. The inherent thrill of high diving, overcoming substantial fears – there’s an emotional currency they can satisfy with high diving in ways they couldn't in traditional diving. And it’s spectacular. Right now, at the clubs, some kids that would have drifted out, are staying in.

“We're not just being a bunch of altruists here,” Geller said. “We need activities for our kids to pursue. All we've done is initiated some stuff. And invested some money -- like the Peru thing.

"It gave our kids a target, a goal; they had to qualify to go. So there was incentive and motivation. It adds to the whole fabric of the sport.”
By Mitch Geller