For his last competition of the season, James Heatly competed at the European Championships in Rome, where he won Silver in the Mixed 3m Synchronised Springboard with his diving partner Grace Reid, and the Bronze in the Team event with Grace, Andrea Spendolini-Sirieix and Noah Williams. Having made his Commonwealth Games debut at a home Games in Glasgow at 17 years old in 2014, James since went on to represent Scotland at the 2018 Gold Coast Games, where he won Bronze in the 1m Springboard, which made him the second Scottish diver to win a diving medal after his grandfather Sir Peter Heatly won Gold in 1958. At this year’s Commonwealth Games in Birmingham, James became the Commonwealth champion when he and his diving partner Grace won Gold in the Mixed 3m Synchronised Springboard, and he competed in the individual Men’s 1m and 3m Springboard and the Men’s Synchronised 3m Springboard finals. Amongst James’ other competitions, he competed at the World Championships in Budapest (winning Bronze in the Mixed Team Event and the Mixed 3m Synchronised Springboard), made his Olympic debut at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games, and he returned to international diving competitions at the World Cup in Tokyo last year since the pandemic had closed pools around the world. As a junior diver, James became a World junior Bronze medallist, and he is currently in pre season training, and is set to compete at next summer’s European Games and World Championships. Catching up with James, he chats about competing at the European Championships in Rome, becoming the Commonwealth Games champion for Team Scotland in Birmingham this year and his experience at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games for his Olympic debut.
You recently competed at the European Championships in Rome, winning Silver in the Mixed 3m Synchronised Springboard with your diving partner Grace Reid and Bronze in the Team Event for Great Britain with Grace, Andrea Spendolini-Sirieix and Noah Williams, what was this like?
After an extremely long and tiring season, Rome was the perfect way to finish. coming away with another medal with Grace was extremely special as we achieved 3/3 major medals this year and the team event with Noah and Andrea was a very fun experience.
How was your time competing in Rome and having the European Championships as your last competition of the season?
My time in Rome wasn’t easy. I contracted a nasty flu virus that went around Team Scotland at the Commonwealth Games the week prior. This had me bed bound for two-and-a-half days leaving me with one day to train before I started competing. The outdoor conditions were difficult because the entire season was indoors and it always takes time to get used to the wind, sun and, on this occasion, the 37 degree heat, staying on top of hydration was key and managing our time in the sun. It was also really enjoyable to spend time with the high divers as they were competing at the same time as us. It’s unusual that we get to share these experiences with them.
At this year’s Commonwealth Games in Birmingham, you represented Team Scotland, becoming the Commonwealth champion alongside Grace in the Mixed 3m Synchronised Springboard, how did you stay focused during the event and what was it like winning the Gold?
Winning Gold with Grace at the Games was very emotional. We both had disappointing results prior to the event, Grace with one 4th place finish and myself with three 4ths. Our synchro was on the morning of the final day, which made it hard to stay focused right through the Games, having to stay patient while others finished before us. However, we have known and trained together since 2008 and we know each other inside and out. We were frustrated with our other results, but we knew we were ready and capable for the Mixed event and we channelled that and decided to give it our all as we still had another opportunity to do something special.
You also competed in the finals of the Men’s 1m Springboard, Men’s 3m Springboard and Men’s Synchronised 3m Springboard, what did you enjoy most about competing in your third Commonwealth Games?
I always love the opportunity to represent both Great Britain and Team Scotland, but finishing 4th in my other three events was a tough pill to swallow. I had four events and I knew I had four chances of claiming medals. I have struggled a lot this last year to find my passion and enjoyment for diving this last year of the back of the Olympics. But after two disappointing competitions, I spoke to my coach and decided to go into the 3m individual event and just have fun, which I did, and not worry about the things I can control. I narrowly missed the podium by two points but I was very proud of the fight back and I really did enjoy being on the boards that day. That’s a feeling I hadn’t had in a long time.
How was the experience staying in the Birmingham athletes village and attending the opening ceremony with your teammates?
The opening and closing ceremonies were amazing! For myself, nothing will compare to the noise of Glasgow 2014, but Birmingham put on an amazing show. We had the largest diving team ever in Birmingham, which made the experience different as I got to share it with more of my teammates. The closing ceremony was an incredible celebration, especially because Grace and I won Gold just a few hours prior. It was a long day and night! The village was different to others I have stayed in because it was university accommodations. Team Scotland looked after us extremely well, we had the best block of flats nicknamed ‘Tory tower’, other countries were not so lucky but we were extremely fortunate.
At the 2018 Commonwealth Games, you won Bronze in the Men’s 1m Springboard, how did it feel becoming the second Scottish diver to win a diving medal after your grandfather Sir Peter Heatly won Gold in 1958?
My 2018 Commonwealth Bronze, to this day, is probably my favourite medal I have won. Mainly due to my family connections, my grandfather Sir Peter Heatly was a three-time Commonwealth champion and the sole reason I got involved in the sport. It was exactly 60 years since his last medal and he was the last Scot to bring one home. Since the Games he competed at, he was involved in every Games prior to Gold Coast as a team manager, chairman of the Commonwealth Games or as a special VIP guest. This meant he had the best seat in the house to watch my Commonwealth Games debut in Glasgow. Gold Coast was the first Games he didn’t attend but I really felt his presence on poolside with me. My Bronze medal meant a lot to me also because it was my first major senior individual medal I achieved. All my prior success had been in synchro competitions. It was a huge confidence boost to know I had the capability of doing it myself.
You first competed at the Commonwealth Games in 2014 in front of a home crowd in Glasgow, how was this?
The Glasgow Commonwealth Games was a wild experience. I was just 17 years old with very little experience, not knowing what I was getting myself into. It’s rare that athletes get to compete in front of a home crowd and I got the honour of doing it in my home country and pool. Being able to share that experience with all my family and friends was special. The ‘Heatly Clan’ took up about half of the stadium and were deafening every time I stood on the board. This event really set me up for the rest of my career, giving me invaluable experience of major events. I look back on Glasgow with the fondest of memories.
What was it like coming away with two Bronze medals at the World Championships in Budapest earlier this year with Team GB in the Team event and with Grace in the Mixed 3m Synchronised Springboard?
2022 has been a difficult season, the toughest yet. I was extremely disappointed to narrowly miss out on the individual 1m and 3m events due to injury. I competed the trials through injury and came 3rd in both with solid performances but unfortunately there is a 2 per country rule. I was lacking in motivation and restricted to certain training and not really feeling like I belonged there. However, competing with Andrea was incredibly fun, we had such a laugh during the Team event, keeping each other calm and working together to achieve the result we did. The Mixed Synchro felt like a long time coming as Grace and I last competed together in 2015. We were both very nervous and subsequently made a mistake in round two which put us down to 11th out of 12 teams. We had to claw our way back up to the podium and just snuck into the Bronze medal position with our last dive. That result was a testament to the fight we both have in us and really showed that it’s not over until it’s over. I am now one of two British divers to win two World medals in one day at a World Championships. Myself and Tom Daley, which is a cool stat to have.
You competed at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games, how was it making your Olympic debut last summer?
The Olympics were crazy. I’m not sure it was the usual ‘Olympic experience’ people talk about with the delay and then with all the COVID measures that were in place. Only we will know what that’s like because hopefully there won’t have to be another Games under those circumstances again. It was a stressful build-up but I was extremely proud to get my tracksuit and become part of Team GB’s exclusive club of being an Olympian. I was happy with my performances in the Prelim and Semi, but disappointed with the Final. But I learnt a lot about myself and I’m itching to get back to the Games and have another go and share the experience with my friends and family and see the host city properly.
Since COVID closed pools around the world, your first international competition back was the World Cup in Tokyo in May 2021, how was it getting back to competing?
The World Cup in 2021 was the most difficult experience I have had in diving. Due to COVID, we were restricted to the amount of time we could be in Japan, not allowing the team to get over the jet lag as we usually would. To try and keep us distanced when we weren’t training or competing, we had to stay in our hotel rooms, which felt like a mini prison. The World Cup is the final event to qualify countries their quota spots for the Olympics. Because GB had already earned both our spots and we couldn’t host a trials, this was used as our Olympic qualification event. I had to wait until the final day, which is unusual, my competition is usually halfway in the schedule. I had to wait the longest to start compared to the rest of my team. I was extremely nervous but I managed to come out as the top Brit, and winning a Silver medal, which was my first senior World medal. I didn’t just win a Silver that day, I won my ticket to the Games in summer.
Can you say about some of the other competitions you’ve been part of and what are some of your stand-out highlights from your career so far?
I have now competed in one Olympics, one World Cup, three World Championships, five European Championships and three Commonwealth Games, winning medals on all these stages, except the Olympics. One of my other stand-out performances was my European Bronze medal in Kyiv in 2017 in the 3m Synchro event with Freddie Woodward. This was my first senior medal and when you win a medal with someone else, it makes it more special. We put a lot of work into that team and had to beat a lot of older, more experienced teams to place 3rd. Freddie is not only an extremely close friend, but he really took me under his wing as I broke into the senior circuit and acted as a role model to me. However, some of my fondest memories are during our downtime. The diving world is really small and it is usually the same group of people that go on these trips. We have become a very tight-knit family. The people and the experiences are what I will remember when it’s all done.
Do you have any favourite memories from competing as a junior diver, which includes you being a World Junior Championships Bronze medallist?
Whenever I think of my junior career, I just smile. I can’t believe I got to experience my teens travelling the world and competing. Some stand-outs are my junior World Championship Bronze in the 3m Synchro with Sam Thornton. We had a really successful season medalling at every event we competed in and that just rounded up our season together. I also loved the European Games in 2015. This was my final junior competition and I took home a Bronze, Silver and a Gold. Even though it was a junior competition, it was under the BOA (British Olympic Association) meaning we got all of the official Team GB kit with the rings on it. I absolutely loved that trip and that team. To this day, we all still talk about our experience there. It was the perfect finish to my junior career on top of the podium listening and singing the National Anthem.
Where does your love of diving come from and how did you start?
My love for diving came from my grandfather Sir Peter Heatly. He was a 3x Commonwealth champion, 2x Olympian and European medallist. My family and I were living in the USA in Virginia Beach where we had an above ground pool. I used to put the trampoline next to it and dive in, sometimes even jumping out of the tree in the garden into it. We knew we were moving back to Edinburgh and my grandpa came to help us pack and prepare to come home. Rather than packing, he coached me in the garden and suggested I started diving when we returned. I joined Edinburgh Diving Club as soon as possible, which he was also a founding member of, and loved it ever since.
Have you been given any advice over the years that has stuck with you and what advice would you give a young diver starting out?
My grandpa you used to say when I was scared that it’s always worse to walk down the stairs than give it a go. I think about that now when I’m frightened on the boards. There’s always a good story behind a diving bruise! I have struggled with motivation and performance anxiety in my career. Anyone who struggles with the same, I would say that anticipation is worse than participation and to always give it a go. I would also say to keep things in your head small. Sport can be stressful enough on its own, there is no need to add extra pressure on yourself and if you’re not enjoying it, you won’t succeed, so have fun and you will achieve so much on your journey.
How do you like to spend your time away from your career?
I am away a lot so when I’m home I like to hang out with my friends, I have a great group of pals from school which I’m still close to. I like to see all my family and get outside with my dog. I also study online part time.
What is a typical training day for you and how different is it in the lead-up to a major competition?
A normal training week for me is two sessions a day. In a week, I do nine pool sessions, two-and-a-half hours each, and three weights sessions, one-and-a-half hours each, and additional cardio and yoga. Roughly adds up to 28 hours a week. In the build-up to competitions, we maintain the sessions but lower the intensity to keep us fresh for the meets.
Do you have any competitions coming up that you can tell us about or that you are targeting?
Right now, we are in our pre season training block with no major events this side of Christmas. I have some abroad training camps which I am looking forward to. In the summer of 2023, there is the European Games and a World Championships, these are the first chance we will get to qualify quota spots for GB at the Olympics, which I intend to do again.
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