Look out below! Shammy etiquette not always followed in diving

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A diver's chamois cloth, or shammy, serves an important purpose, but athletes don't always look where they're tossing their towels before they launch from the springboard or platform.

During competition warmups, when athletes are getting out of the pool, climbing the ladders and waiting their turn on the boards, wet cloths falling from a height onto heads and hands below are an occupational hazard.

"A couple times a week maybe, but usually more in competitions because there's so many people," said Calgary diver Caeili McKay, who will make her Olympic debut in Tokyo.

"It's happened a couple of times when it's hit me in the eye and I can't see for the rest of practice."

When a sopping wet cloth was dropped from the 10-metre tower onto Meaghan Benfeito's finger at the pool's edge during training, it stung.

"I look where I kind of throw my shammy," the Montreal diver said. "I try not to hit anybody. It doesn't happen as often as people think, but it really hurts."

Diving is an equipment-light sport with the shammy part of the kit.

If hands and legs are too dry or too wet, divers can't properly grip their upper legs while they're spinning fast in mid-air.

The shammy's purpose is to mop the body to the right balance of dryness and moistness.

"You kind of need your hands to be a little wet so you can grip onto your legs," Benfeito explained. "You want your legs to be dry, but your hands to be a little moist-ish."

There is shammy etiquette that isn't always followed.

Brains are more preoccupied with the upcoming dive than where the shammy falls on the pool deck for quick retrieval after emerging from the pool.

"You tie it in a knot, make sure no one is walking (underneath) and then you chuck it either down or across the pool so no one gets hurt," McKay explained.

Shammy missiles are more common from the 10-metre platform than the three-metre springboard because divers in the latter have a closer view of what or who is below them on deck.

"Usually it's more the people on tower, that they don't see each other and they just throw their shammy down, so they get hit more often," said four-time Olympian Jennifer Abel.

Benfeito, a triple Olympic bronze medallist on the tower, says retrieving her shammy and mopping her body after a dive gives her a little psychological reset in a sport in which she launches herself off the equivalent of a three-story building.

"I think it's more of a comfort zone than anything else. It's yours, right?" Benfeito said. "Nobody else can touch it."

Abel says her shammy isn't a security blanket, but there have been moments where it is special to her.

"A few years ago my shammy was black and I was the only one that had a black shammy," Abel said.

"At the (2016) Olympics, I have a picture with me throwing my black shammy and that picture was everywhere and I love it. It's even in my room."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 19, 2021.

Donna Spencer, The Canadian Press

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