Tonia Couch photoshoot ()Tonia Couch photoshoot () © Copyright

Tonia Couch: Olympics, fitness, dogs and Tom Daley

Tonia Couch is incredibly upbeat given she spends her days throwing herself off a plank. Ahead of her third Olympics, we find out what makes Tonia tick

To say Tonia Couch has a positive outlook on life is putting it mildly. Nothing fazes the British diving star from Plymouth, and as we sit and chat to her about her journey from childhood gymnastics to the verge of a third Olympics, every challenge and setback we discuss is met with a laugh and a flash of her winning smile. Like that injury to her elbow that she suffered aged just nine…

“I was a gymnast at the time, and I fell off the bars and did that damage,” she explains. “I got told I’d never be able to put weight on my arm again, but I went to gymnastics in a cast, and once I got it taken off, I just worked really hard with the physios. I kind of fell behind a bit after that, and I started to get a bit nervous doing things because of the arm. Someone said to my mum that I should try diving, so I went and tried it out, and it was just more relaxing and more fun.
I moved to diving, brought some friends with me and six weeks later, I won my first competition. It was awesome.”

Tonia Couch swimwear shoot for FS magazine (Ben Riggott)

 

OK, terrible injury leads to positive outcome. Fair enough. But what about the past 12 months? Couch, who performs individual and synchronised dives, saw long-term partner Sarah Barrow – one of those who followed her to diving from that gymnastics team – pick up an injury, and was forced to look elsewhere for a collaborator. At our interview, with the Olympics just months away, she still doesn’t know if she’ll be heading to Rio with Barrow or with current partner Lois Toulson. Is she bothered? What do you think?

“We’re still not sure what’s happening,” she concedes. “It’s mental to change so close to the Olympics, but it doesn’t really affect me. I just get on with it and keep smiling – what’s the point of worrying?”

Couch’s enthusiasm is intoxicating, and in a time when women sports stars are fighting their corner for wages, coverage and respect, Couch is yet another role model that youngsters can look up to. With photographers, make-up artist and stylists waiting to whisk her off in front of our cameras, is that status something that weighs heavily on her shoulders?

“I don’t really think about it, to be honest. There’s no gender divide in diving, so I don’t have the same barriers and issues that other sports seem to face. Do I enjoy shoots like this? Definitely! Every girl likes getting their hair and make-up done. I know loads of people will be looking at the images and stuff, but the coverage we get is normally so positive that it’s not something I worry about. Everyone is so nice.”

Glass half full or half empty? I honestly think Couch would just be pleased that there was a glass in front of her.

Tonia Couch swimwear photoshoot for FS magazine (Ben Riggott)

 

Feeling olympic

Talking of positives, Couch has had her fair share to take from her Olympic trips. She soaked up the big stage in Beijing, then finished fifth in the synchro event in front of the home crowds at 2012. Now, at Rio this year, she has another crack at that elusive medal. But, aged 26, will it be her final crack?

“Oh, don’t,” she replies with mock outrage when we mention her future. “I’m not letting myself think about it too much because if I think I’m going to finish, I’ll be really sad in Rio. I love diving so much, so I’m just going to see where I am after the Games. I’m definitely going to start doing more coaching, though.

“For now, I’m just focusing on getting to Rio. Beijing was my first Olympics, so that was really special and exciting. I was just there for the experience and had no pressure, then 2012 was in front of the home crowd, so it was amazing. The aim was always to medal – you’ve got to aim high – but to finish fifth was such a huge achievement. We can medal this time.”

Couch has had one Rio experience in 2016, when she secured a qualifying slot for Team GB while out there in February – and it’s something that she hopes will stand her in good stead if she is standing back on that high board in August.

“We had to finish in the top five and we won bronze,” she explains. “It makes a difference pulling out the big dives on the big occasions. It makes you believe more, so hopefully it will come in handy when it matters.

“It was nice to be at the actual Olympic venue, but they kept having power cuts because it was so hot out there. That was interesting. It will be their winter when the Olympics are on, so it will be tough diving outside in the rain and wind. We’re ready for anything, though, and we’re doing a lot of outdoor training camps.”

Tonia Couch bikini swimwear photoshoot for FS magazine (Ben Riggott)

 

After the echoing atmosphere of the 2012 diving events, it feels strange to talk of diving as an outdoor event. Those Red Bull lunatics who throw themselves off huge rockfaces aside, we’re used to seeing diving as an indoor event, but Rio is one of the locations taking it back to the outdoors. With the roof taken away, though, does the atmosphere disappear?

“To be honest, it doesn’t make a huge difference, as weird as it sounds,” insists Couch. “The atmosphere inside can be better, and it was amazing at 2012 for example, but you kind of zone out from that anyway. If someone asked me to stand up and talk about myself for 15 minutes in front of thousands of people, I’d hate it. But I jump in front of huge crowds. You just don’t notice the crowd when you’re ready to go.

“The feeling when you pull off a good dive and you are coming out of the water to an eruption of noise, though…” she stops and smiles. “That’s unreal.”

Hard core

Unreal. Forget the noise of the crowd, that’s the word we’d use to describe some of the things that these top divers pull off. Flips, twists, handstands, swirlies (may or may not be a real thing) – the athleticism and power they display is immense. Just cast your eyes over the photos adorning these pages to see a glimpse of the weapon Couch has built over the years in her battle for Olympic treasure. In between spectacular set-ups – and before she finds herself plunged into freezing cold water – we asked her to run us through a diver’s fight for fitness.

“Strength is a huge part of it,” she begins, “because that’s the part that can fall away quickly once you stop training or have some time off. It’s not about getting muscley or building mass, but you need sheer power. Erupting off the board and getting height in your jump takes power.

“Other than that, it’s core work really, and then plyometrics, stretching and just being flexible. We have Sundays off each week, but we train twice a day on weekdays, and once on Saturdays. Each time, that’s over an hour in the gym doing gymnastics, weights, jumps onto boxes, trampoline work and so on; then it’s off to do some diving work. We do weights twice a week, and keep working on fast-twitch muscles, which we need for speed and power off the board.

“There’s no strict diet, but I’m just healthy anyway,” she continues, as I quietly hide the croissant I had just picked up. “I have cheat days, though. I love a Chinese!” Back to the croissant.

Tonia Couch swimwear photoshoot for FS magazine (Ben Riggott)

 

Off the boards

Training six times a week means diving is clearly a huge part of Couch’s life, but it’s not the only thing in her life. Long-term boyfriend Karl (sorry) is another; but even he is fighting for top billing…

“It’s true!” Couch laughs. “I’ve got a massive dog called Nanook – he’s a cross between a malamute, a husky, a northern Inuit and an arctic wolf, so he’s huge! – and I love him! My boyfriend and I often have nice long pub lunches after going for a seriously long walk with him.

“I absolutely love dogs. If I won the lottery, I’d buy a massive house with huge gardens and just save as many dogs as I could. I’m obsessed by them.” One look at her social media proves it, as Nanook features regularly. Alongside Tom Daley.

“Yeah, me and Tom are inseparable,” chuckles Couch, who stayed at Daley’s house the night before our interview. “I’ve known him since he was seven. It’s been weird because I don’t see him as a famous person, yet we’ve seen him grow into this famous life,” she explains. “We went out for a steak last night and you could hear people saying ‘it’s Tom Daley’ when we were walking down the street. It makes me giggle. He handles it so well.

“He’s made diving what it is today. We’ve all improved, but we wouldn’t have the media coverage if it wasn’t for Tom. Plymouth is packed with kids wanting to dive, and wanting to be the next Tom.

“It’s great to see the interest, and I’d advise any young girl to give it a go. You meet amazing people, travel the world and get to achieve your goals. We’re like a little family that travel around together – even the guys and girls from rival countries are all really nice and supportive – so it’s an amazing life.

“I’ve missed out on some stuff in my life, but I wouldn’t change it for the world. As horrible as it was, I’m so glad I dislocated my elbow that day.”

In the nicest possible way, so are we.

Björn Borg is a Swedish sports fashion brand that makes sportswear and underwear designed to make you look and feel active and attractive

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