By Brendan Shykora
Two years ago heading into the 2016 Junior Diving Development Nationals in Montreal, Kate Miller was an unknown in the Canadian diving scene.
Since those nationals – which saw her win all her events and set a new national record for the three-metre springboard – she’s done nothing but attract the attention of Diving Canada.
“That event kind of made Dive Canada recognize me,” Miller said of her first major competition. “I was glad I showed what I was capable of.”
All eyes were on her at the 2018 junior development nationals at the Pan Am Sports Centre in Toronto. Not one to disappoint, Miller struck the podium in all three of her events, winning two gold medals and a silver.
Representing the Nepean Ottawa Diving Club, Miller was a standout among the 92 young divers at the nationals, which took place from July 6-9.
The 13-year-old won the women’s 7.5 metre platform with a final dive that impressed the judges: an inward two and one-half somersault in a tuck position. With a high difficulty rating and a strong execution on Miller’s part, the dive outscored all others in the event by nearly seven points.
Before nationals, Miller called the dive “a favourite” in her arsenal.
The drive to perfect increasingly technical dives is what keeps her devoted to the sport: “It gives me excitement when I want to learn a new dive.”
At nationals Miller also tied for gold in the 1 m springboard with L’Envol Diving Club product Jordane Legault. Her silver medal came in the 3 m springboard event.
A ‘natural’ diver
Miller’s path towards high-level diving began at age six at the Walter Baker pool in Ottawa.
“I saw this lifeguard do this cool flip on the 3 m springboard, and so I tried doing one myself and it actually turned out pretty well,” Miller said with a laugh.
After seeing her imitation, Miller’s parents promptly brought her to the Nepean Ottawa Diving Club, where she’s continued to learn at a breakneck pace.
“In gymnastics and dance you have to start off really slow, but I’ve found in diving that I can just go fast. It can take me maybe two days to go from a fall-in to a front flip.”
While in Miller’s experience diving might involve a short learning curve, Fernando Henderson, a former Olympian and head coach of the NODC, says she’s gifted with a unique ability to learn difficult dives quickly.
“Kate adapts to corrections almost right away,” Henderson said. “That’s why for her age she’s done really well.”
Case in point: at the Pan American Championships last September Miller suffered a broken toe just before her competitions were to start. To circumvent the injury, Miller decided to change her hurdle leg on the fly.
“That usually takes a regular athlete a year, or many months, to make that kind of change,” Henderson said.
Next year Miller will enter the junior elite age group – a step forward that Henderson says she’s more than ready for.
“Starting next year she’s going to be diving from 10 metres,” Henderson said, who added that she already knows how to do a number of 10 m dives but isn’t allowed to use them in her current age group.
“At the last provincials we had in London Ontario at the end of May she dove the open event at the senior level as well,” Henderson added. “Not a lot of kids her age are capable of doing that.”
Miller’s senior dives were good enough to qualify for the senior national championships in early August.
According to her coach, Miller’s success comes from her maturity.
“She always wants to hang around the older kids. She’s always trying to do the stuff that the older kids are doing, which is making her work harder.”
Diving Canada has allowed her to train with girls 15 and older at the Olympic pool in Montreal about once a week. “There’s only two kids in the country who are being treated like that,” Henderson said, referring to Benjamin Tessier as the other. He won two golds and a silver himself at this year’s nationals.
Henderson’s focus for now is to slowly work on Miller’s mechanics, preparing her for Olympic readiness in a few years’ time.
“It’s not so much what she’s doing now, it’s where she’s going to be when she’s 17.”
Ottawa National Diving Club athletes show top chops
Charlee Mae, Audree Howes and Catherine Boyer also competed at junior development nationals.
Boyer had the highest finish of the girls from her club, winning bronze in the platform event of her age group. She also came 5th in the 3 m.
Howes finished in 9th place in the preliminary round in the 1 m and 10th place in the preliminary round of the platform for her age group.
Mae finished in 11th in both the 1 m and 3 m categories.