At the Birmingham Commonwealth Games this year, Eden Cheng made her Commonwealth debut in front of a home crowd representing Team England, after narrowly missing out on selection for the team at the last Commonwealth Games due to injury. Alongside her diving partner Andrea Spendolini-Sirieix, Eden won Silver in the Women’s Synchronised 10m Platform, and she made the individual 10m Platform event, where she finished 4th. In May, Eden won her first senior individual title at the British Diving Championships and she won Bronze in the Women’s Synchronised 10m Platform, once again, alongside her diving partner Andrea. Other senior diving competitions for Eden has seen her make her Olympic debut for Team GB at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games last year, and alongside Lois Toulson, she won Silver at both the European Aquatics Championships and the Diving World Cup in the Women’s Synchronised 10m Platform. After being a gymnast for seven years, Eden was inspired to get into diving after seeing her now-teammate Tom Daley win Bronze at the London 2012 Olympic Games, which she attended. This month, Eden begins her time as a student at UCLA in America, and she is working towards the NCAA competition, the British Nationals and the World Championships in Japan. We caught up with Eden about winning Silver with Andrea Spendolini-Sirieix for her Commonwealth Games debut in Birmingham, her first senior individual title at the British Diving Championships in May and competing at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games.
How did you find the experience competing in front of a home crowd for your Commonwealth Games debut earlier this year?
Since this was my first Commonwealth Games, I was excited to be part of Team England and to compete. What made the experience even better was it was in front of a home crowd. The crowd was so supportive, and it was a dream come true to be able to showcase diving to them.
What was it like being part of Team England and how did you feel finding out you’d been selected for the team?
I was very happy and excited to hear that I was selected to represent Team England at the Commonwealth Games, and the fact that I have been suffering with a chronic ankle injury throughout this 2022 season and narrowly missed out last Commonwealth Games due to injury, it made this selection even sweeter. Being part of Team England was so special, being able to meet so many different athletes sharing the same goal and hearing their stories was incredible. I was welcomed with open arms, and it was an honour to be able to be part of such a successful team on home turf.
You won Silver in the Women’s Synchronised 10m Platform with your diving partner Andrea Spendolini-Sirieix, how did it feel winning your medal and what was the competition like to be part of?
That winning feeling was incredible and to share it with Andrea was very special. As I said before, I have been suffering with an ankle injury this season so my pathway to these Games was not smooth sailing. I have had multiple steroid injections to get me through competitions and had to modify my training regime, so I wasn’t able to prepare for competitions as I would have wanted to. This competition was definitely the most fun, with the crowd behind you before every dive you could really feel their support and hope you would do well.
How did you prepare for your Women’s 10m Platform Final and how did you stay focused throughout the competition?
Competing as an individual and in a synchro pair is completely different and for most of my diving career I have been a synchro diver. It was only this year that I was able to compete individually in major competitions such as the Commonwealth Games, so this one was a special one. Prior to competition, I normally listen to music to take my mind off diving, keep myself warm and have a snack (dried mango).
During the comp, I normally sit in a quiet spot with my water bottle, a pair of socks and a couple of towels or a dry robe. So in between rounds I can keep hydrated and warm.
Before I step foot onto the platform I would take a few breaths to be in the moment. When I say it’s different as an individual opposed to in a synchro pair, I mean that when you are in a synchro pair you tend to feel a little more relaxed since you are sharing the platform with someone else who you know well and they can help reduce nerves. Whereas when it’s just you, I tend to feel a bit more nervous and jittery.
In May, you achieved your first senior individual title when you won Gold in the Women’s 10m Platform at the British Diving Championships, how was this?
This Final was of very high standard and especially when my first dive didn’t go my way, I was very proud and happy about my performance. In addition to that, I would have previously mentioned about my ankle injury but with that a few weeks prior to the competition I was in so much pain that there was a chance I would have pulled out.
As well as physical setbacks, I also had to overcome mental obstacles as well. Two years ago, at a senior British national competition, I competed a new and the most difficult dive in my dive list (Back 3 ½ somersaults in the tucked position – 207c) and it went seriously wrong, and I landed flat on my back and was given a failed dive. After this competition I lost all confidence in myself and had to build back my mental strength to get back up on 10m to perform this dive, after many splats and lots of work with my sports psychologist to change my approach to competition and to know that it’s ok to have a bad day at the office. So, this win was a big one for me and gave me back the confidence I needed to carry on.
What was it like winning the Bronze medal with Andrea in the Women’s Synchronised 10m Platform and what did you enjoy most about competing at the British Diving Championships?
It was great to have won a Bronze medal with Andrea. This had been quite a new partnership, so it was great to see that after not too much training we were able to get on the podium. That competition was only the beginning so I am excited to see where it can go and its future.
You made your Olympic debut last year at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games, what was it like representing Team GB in Tokyo?
It was amazing to have the privilege to represent Team GB. It, again, was an honour to showcase diving on the world stage. It was a blast to be part of such a historic legacy that is Team GB.
What are some of your favourite memories from competing at the your first Olympics and staying in the athletes village?
I would have to say that one of the best things was the Olympic kit. Kitting out day was a dream, being able to wear the rings and the lion on my chest was a true honour. Another one of my favourite memories was stepping foot into the village, it was out of this world from the eco-friendly plaza only made of wood to the famous cardboard beds. Also, our home away from home (Team GB Block) was incredible, it was as if I was back home. I was able to meet so many British sporting heroes such as Andy Murray, Emily Campbell, and Geraint Thomas. It was also so cool how you could walk around the village and see international sporting heroes such as Ash Barty.
Can you tell us about your time competing at the European Aquatics Championships in Budapest, which saw you win Silver in the Women’s Synchronised 10m Platform with your diving partner Lois Toulson?
That competition wasn’t my best competition, it was a bit of a rollercoaster with some dips. On the third dive I slipped on the platform and in doing so jeopardised my front 3 ½ somersaults in the piked position (107b). However, I didn’t let that pull me down and I put my focus into the next dive instead of dwelling on my mistake.
How was it competing at the 2021 Diving World Cup in Tokyo, where you won Silver again with Lois, and what was it like getting back to competitions after the pandemic had closed pools?
There were lots of different pressures going into this competition from COVID risk to this competition being the last chance for us to get the Olympic quota spot for Great Britain. It was very strange to compete with no crowds but on the flip side it was nice because you could hear the distinct voices of your teammates cheering.
During the pandemic, I had to move pools since the original pool I trained at, which is at the Crystal Palace National Sports Center, is still currently closed. I trained at the Olympic Pool in Stratford. I found it very hard because the pool in Stratford is around a one-and-a-half hours away from where I live and around an hour away from my school at the time. Having said that, at the time I was studying for my A-Levels, and since I was training for this competition and in turn the Olympics, I attended online lessons provided by my school at the pool and in the car whilst commuting to and from the pool. All round, the commute was around three hours there and back.
What are some of your stand-out highlights from your career so far and can you say about some of the other competitions you’ve been part of?
One big stand-out highlight would be my first British title earlier this year. This is because it was not the start of the season I would have wanted, with struggling through an injury and training through pain constantly. So, I would say this was my biggest achievement.
Another would be being selected for the Tokyo Olympic team, this is because this was my first Olympic Games, and the Olympics is what most people perceive as the highest level of sport you can go.
Of course, another is winning a medal at the Commonwealth Games in front of a home crowd. This was incredible because it was the first major event that had a crowd to watch. To see all the stands full to the brim with people wanting you to do well was just an insane feeling.
It’s been announced you’ll be attending UCLA, what encouraged you to attend and what are you looking forward to for your time there?
Yes, I will be attending UCLA from this September. What really encouraged my decision was how in the States you can really balance your academic and athletic career, whereas in the UK this is very hard. I know it would be very hard to be in university in the UK and still try and be an elite athlete like I am because I have seen past divers try and do that and they really struggled, and I have had my own experience in this because I had to balance being an elite diver and a full-time student from the age of 15. This meant sacrificing all social events, self-teaching courses, eating all my meals in the car and a lot of late nights. I also feel like I need a change in training environment, and I also feel as though the education system is more suited to my needs in the States compared to in the UK.
The things I would be most excited for is meeting new people, building on new life experiences and, most of all, getting a degree.
What is a typical training day for you and how does it change in the lead-up to a major competition?
Well, a typical day of training would consist of both dryland training which includes drills for our dives on the floor, somersaults on blocks to mimic take offs from the platforms, some springboard and trampoline skills such as somersaults, doubles and twisting skills and, lastly, some diving specific conditioning and technique work, and actual diving in the pool. All together, our sessions will be around two-and-a-half to three hours and some days we will have two sessions and some days only one with an addition of strength and conditioning (Olympic lifting). We would have strength and conditioning two to three times a week and each training. In the lead-up to a major competition, I would do some practice competition training such as doing a round of my dives and have my coach score them and it would be in the format of a comp day so we would have a certain amount of training time and then it’s only one of each dive.
How did you get into diving and is it something you always wanted to do?
I originally wanted to be a gymnast and was for seven years. It was only when my family managed to get some tickets to the diving in London 2012 and I saw diving for the first time as well as, my teammate now, Tom Daley win Bronze in the Men’s 10m Final. So, I would say that I was inspired by him. I was talent tested at my primary school by a diving coach from a local club and since I had quite a lot of characteristics for diving because of gymnastics, I had a go and took a leap in taking up diving instead of carrying on gymnastics. And look where that has landed me, an Olympian at the age of 18 and a Commonwealth Medallist at a home Games.
Have you been given any advice throughout your time as a diver that has stuck with you and what advice would you give a new diver starting out?
Advice I would give to starting out divers would be to always have fun, be brave and in competition to just think that you are just showcasing your hard work.
Do you have any competitions coming up that you can tell us about or that you are targeting?
Some competitions that I would be working towards are the British Nationals, so I can see if I can retain my British title.
Another competition I will be aiming for is the NCAA competition, this competition is the collegiate national competition that is recognised as a high-level competition in the States.
Another competition I would be working towards would be the World Championships in Japan. This will be the qualifying event for Olympic quota spots, and I didn’t have the best World Championships earlier this year and would love to have another chance at it to better my performance.
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