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Interview: Team England diver Chris Mears

Sports Mole talks to Team England diver Chris Mears ahead of the Commonwealth Games on the Gold Coast.

It has been more than 18 months since the last Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro - a magical fortnight that saw Team GB deliver its best performance in more than 100 years and finish second in the medals table, ahead of the likes of Russia, China and Germany.

All manner of firsts were achieved in Brazil - Max Whitlock won GB's first ever gymnastics gold medal, Alistair Brownlee became the first triathlete to defend an Olympic title, Justin Rose was the first British golfer to claim Olympic gold, while Chris Mears and his partner Jack Laugher brought home a first ever diving gold after triumphing in the men's 3m synchro event.

A common feeling for Olympic athletes, Chris has spoken candidly about suffering from the 'post-Olympic blues' phenomenon after returning home from Rio and at one point even considered quitting diving altogether - but now he's back and aiming for glory once more as part of Team England at the Commonwealth Games in Australia.

Ahead of his trip Down Under, Sports Mole sat down for a chat with Chris to reflect on a whirlwind couple of years.

Team England's Chris Mears pictured prior to the 2018 Commonwealth Games

It's 18 months on from the Olympics now and your performance obviously brought a lot of attention your way. Have things calmed down a bit now?

"Definitely, things have calmed down. It was pretty crazy for quite a while in terms of the attention. It was quite a difficult time actually, for a number of reasons, but it's really nice to be able to knuckle down with my training. I'm really excited about this year, I don't feel any pressure - people wondering 'Olympic champions, are they going to deliver?' - I'm not bothered about that, I've got my own goals and my own targets. I'm just excited for the next year."

I read that after the Olympics, you considered quitting diving altogether - is that true?

"I had actually planned before [Rio] that I was going to retire. I said in my head that if I got a good result, I was going to go. I said that to my mates, I didn't say it publicly, because you never know what's going to happen around the corner. But that didn't happen. It came round to it and I decided that wasn't what I wanted. I also thought that after all the success, I got great endorsements and opportunities that were really important - not just for me as a person, but also to kind of grow the legacy of winning the Olympic medal. I didn't want to cut my ties straight away.

"It's no secret, I put an Instagram post up a few weeks ago talking about my experiences of mental health and my own personal struggles, which is quite a big thing for me. Sharing something that personal with my fans... sometimes that kind of stuff is a taboo and you don't really talk about it. I think it's really important for people to speak up, it was a way of me trying to give back to people and encourage other people who are struggling to talk to someone about it.

"I've worked with people who suffer from anxiety and stress - we got them to jump off a 10m board, random ages, random people. It liberated me, being able to give back and help other people with problems that I've had and show how good it made them feel. I've kept in touch with a few of them who said that the experience changed their lives."

How much did diving relate to what you went through? I think a lot of people assume that it's physical sport but I imagine a lot of the battle is a mental one.

"Our sport is a huge mental game. I think if we're talking competition, it's probably 80% mental. You can be as strong as anyone else but at the end of the day, you have to be confident to walk down the board, land on the end and then go up in the air, do your routine and go in the water with no splash. If one part of that goes wrong, you're ruined and you don't get what you want.

"It's kind of like golf I think - you play one shot and then you move on and do the next one. Even when you miss a shot, or mis-dive, you have to be able to put yourself in a good position again when you stand back on the board, which is after five to six minutes of recovery. You have to be in a good mental state to get back up there and be confident.

"That's not something I've really struggled with too much, I've had general anxiety and stress. The Olympics was the most amazing experience in the world but then coming back down to reality is what I was struggling with. But yeah, the whole thing is a mental game."

Chris Mears and Jack Laugher pose with their gold medals after winning the men's 3m synchro at the Rio Olympics on August 10, 2016© BBC

As far as your coaching goes, your long-term coach Ady Hinchliffe left the GB setup a year ago. How has it been since and has there been much difference in your training?

"I think on the whole, training is pretty similar. Ady really motivated us in a way that I guess was unparalleled. I felt inspired by him, he inspired us with his words and the way that he managed us - and the way he was in competition was just a whole new level of perfect. He was a great asset to us, but we have since had some struggles with who was coaching us and so on. We did have Edwin [Jongejans], that was all a bit hit and miss - it was all going well but I think there was some stuff around him and where he was at, so he wanted to go.

"He has now moved, which again is another big loss, but we have Adam [Smallwood], and Marc [Holdsworth]. Marc is a really experienced coach. He's coached Dan [Goodfellow] for years and he got an Olympic bronze medal, we have Adam who coached Jack and he almost got a world record on 3m, so they both know what they're doing. They're both fantastic. Also me and Jack have got loads of experience of world-class diving too - we have extensive knowledge now."

Is coaching something you'd consider going into in the future?

"I'm not going to stand here and rule it out because I think giving back to the community of diving, being a diver for all my years, is very important to me. But being a diving coach is probably on the bottom of my list of priorities that I want to do as a person. I don't think I'm the right person to be a diving coach! I think you have to have a certain type of... I'm more of a creative type, but I'm not going to rule it out. I want to be able to walk into a diving centre anywhere around the country and be able to give my five cents on something, even 10 years down the line. I'm still extremely knowledgeable about the sport and about different techniques."

We have the Commonwealths coming up very soon now. In terms of all of the events you compete in, how important are the Commonwealths?

"For me personally, the Commonwealths rank just under the Olympics - they're that important to me for a number of reasons. The main one is the amount of attention it gets in the public eye. The countries that we compete against in the Commonwealths make it not too difficult to actually get a medal, so you can see that success in front of your eyes. Me and Jack are really excited to go to the Commonwealths - we love what it represents and we love competing at the Commonwealth Games."

Are you just focusing on synchro at the Commonwealths or do you have any ambitions as an individual?

"I am a synchro specialist - that's my thing, it's all I do now. It's a pretty good feel for me - I'm getting older, I have certain troubles with my body and it's much better for me to just focus on the synchro list rather than push the boundaries and go for an individual spot.

"I'm happy doing synchro, I love competing and I love standing next to Jack - it's incredible, he inspires me so much as an athlete. Jack enjoys synchro way more than individual because you feel so much more pressure when you're by yourself! When you're stood next to your mate and you're just having fun, it's the best feeling."

The diving programme at the Commonwealth Games runs from April 11-14 on the Gold Coast. Follow Chris on Instagram @MearsChris93.

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Team England's Max Whitlock pictured prior to the 2018 Commonwealth Games
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