Introducing Uschi Freitag
Meet Uschi Freitag, an Olympic Diver who represented The Netherlands at Rio 2016, and is now the Sport Ireland Campus Head of Diving. Born in Germany to parents who were also keen divers, Uschi took to the sport at a very young age and after a series of setbacks, finally achieved her dream of getting to an Olympic Games.
Read her story in her own words below:
"My name is Uschi Freitag, the Head of Diving at the Sport Ireland Campus.
My diving journey goes way back to when I was born. My mom and dad were both divers and they met in the pool in Aachen, Germany. My mom is still an active diver and my dad coaches her. When I was about one year old and still in diapers, I walked to the poolside and jumped in.
They had to get me out of the water, but I thought it was brilliant and did it again.
At 4 years old, wearing armbands, I went up to the 5 meters platform without my parents noticing.
Other divers had to stop me from jumping in, but it was there where my career started.
I joined a squad to train twice a week but quickly moved to four times a week as I progressed fast. I took part in my first competition when I was just 5 years old.
By the time I was 8, I was training 6 times per week. That meant that my parents had to drive every day, which I really appreciate, as they had to sacrifice a lot to get me there.
By the age of 12, more and more competitions were on the agenda.
At German Nationals, I made a mistake and broke my neck doing somersaults in the dry-land training area. I was out injured for 9 months, but the only thing I wanted all this time, was to get back on the diving boards.
I came back one year later at the same competition and won both of my events. I was back! All of the people who thought that I wouldn’t be able to get back were proved wrong.
After the injury, the way up was the only way for me. I competed in European Junior Championships, where I won medals. I then competed in the World Junior Championships, where I came close to medalling.
Then came the tricky part, moving from Junior to Senior competitions. I managed to qualify in my first year of competing (2009) at Senior level for the World Championships in Rome. Unfortunately, at this competition I slipped off the diving board and fell flat on my back, recording a failed dive meaning a 26th place for me and failed to qualify for the semi-finals or final.
I thought to myself: ‘Come back stronger’, and I did.
The following year in the European Championships I placed, 4th, 6th & 10th in different categories.
At the World Cup in China, I managed to get into the final and finished 10th in the world for individual diving, and 9th in synchronized diving.
2011 was the pre-Olympic year where you have the chance to get the first places for a country to participate in the Olympics.
First, I took part in the European Championship where I got my first medal at senior level. Then the hard part was going to the World Championships. We almost got the bronze medal in the synchronized event, and I got 11th in my individual event, which meant an Olympic place for Germany. My dream was getting a lot closer now.
I went into 2012 with great excitement and joy, but this year ended in massive disappointment.
We finished 5th in synchronized diving and this qualified us to dive in the Diving World Series that year. This saw the best of the best divers competing over four competitions, all over the world. We managed to get a medal in one of those competitions. We were one of the best three in the world!
In May, the European Championships were held in The Netherlands, which for me was brilliant, because I am half Dutch and was born in The Netherlands.
I had a lot of support from the home crowd, which helped me in getting a bronze and a silver medal. I was very happy with myself and was ready for the Olympic qualification competition in Berlin the week after. I dived well, well enough actually qualify for the team, but they decided not to take me to the Olympics.
I was devastated. I thought “I should be there and now but they are taking other people to the Olympics”. I was depressed after this decision. The only thing that helped me pick up again was a reality tv programme where I coached celebrities how to dive. This gave me back my passion and reminded me of why I was doing this all my life.
I decided to change countries. I began studying to become a PE teacher. I changed coach and switched to Eindhoven as my training centre.
Changing to another country means that you cannot do any international competitions for a certain amount of years. The FINA (governing body) had decided I would have to wait 1 year. This meant my very first competition for The Netherlands would be the World Championships in Barcelona 2013. I finished 8th in the world. I began training even harder, and I got picked up medals in Grand Prix’s and came close to medalling in several other competitions.
Then came 2015, another pre-Olympic year. I got into the final of the World Championships, and this time it was not a spot for The Netherlands I was competing for, but it was my spot!
I qualified which was great as I knew I was qualified for the Olympics one year before it started. It was a big relief.
I could work towards the Olympic Games without having the pressure others had to qualify.
Then in 2016, my dream of competing at the Olympics came closer and closer. The World Cup was in Rio de Janeiro, and I took this opportunity to get used to the environment and the boards to prepare for the Olympics.
After this, the European Championships were in London. I managed to get second in my individual event. I knew I was ready for my biggest challenge, The Olympic Games.
On the 4th of August, I flew with the King of The Netherlands to Rio. The next day was the opening ceremony, which was an amazing experience. The day after that, the King himself talked to a few athletes, including me. Seeing the Olympic village, other world-famous athletes and trying to take everything in was so overwhelming. But I wasn’t there for this, I was there to give my best ever performance. I practiced a lot to prepare and on the 12th of August, it was my day to compete at an Olympics, my event: The Women’s 3-meter preliminary. I was diver number 22.
I did fantastically and almost recorded my highest score ever, and I finished 11th in the qualifiers meaning I was going to be in the semi-final.
The next day I took part in the semi-finals. I was diver number 8. I dove well again but did make one little mistake. The Judges were tough, and I missed the final by 8 points. I finished 14th overall and very satisfied with the result. It was an amazing experience to live out my dream. After the Olympics, I retired from diving, very happy with the career I had.