Lino Socorro, head coach of the Cuban national diving team, and a contingent of Cuban youth divers came to Saanich a week early to train for the Pan American Junior Diving Championships as they were forced to evacuate Cuba due to hurricanes. Travis Paterson/News Staff Jose Guerra, left, and Lino Socorro, right, coach Cuban national diving team and brought a contingent of eight divers to Saanich one week early for the Pan American Junior Diving Championships as they were forced to evacuate Cuba due to hurricanes. Travis Paterson/News Staff

In like a hurricane: Cuban divers come early for Pan Ams

Saanich hosts Pan Am Diving Championships

With an extra team in house for the past week, the diving boards and platforms of Saanich Commonwealth Place have looked like a slot machine spitting out athletes.

Hurricane Irma hit Cuba, killing 10 people, and flattening homes and other infrastructure. During the evacuation to safe shelter, and the recovery process after Irma left, the youth athletes of the Cuban national diving team were unable to train for 10 days.

Eight of them arrived in Saanich on Sept. 20, diving alongside the Boardworks Diving Club in preparation for the Pan American Junior Diving Championships, Sept. 28 to Oct. 1 at Commonwealth Place.

“Are we OK? Always, we’ll be OK,” said Cuban diving coach Lino Socorro. “We made a quick training plan before we came here and now we’re training as much as possible before the competition.”

Boardworks has three athletes competing in this week’s Pan Ams. Royal Oak’s Carson Paul, 12, qualified for two events, winning national gold this year in the three-metre springboard and 10-metre platform for 12-and-13-year olds. Paul also won national bronze in the one-metre, but only the gold and silver spots qualify. Cadboro Bay’s Kiera Lu, 11, will compete at Pan Ams as she won national silver in the one-metre (for 11-and-under). Colwood’s Brydon Hattie will compete in the 16-to-18 category as the national champion in three-metre, though he also won national bronze in the one-metre for his age group.

It’s the fourth major event at Commonwealth Place in 2017, including this year’s Speedo Junior Development National Championships, July 7 to 9.

“It’s been a long year, but the advantages for our club hosting these events far outweigh the work we put in,” said Boardworks coach Lisa Boog. “For our divers to compete in their home pool is already an advantage.”

All three Boardworks divers are capable of ‘medaling’ this week, Boog added.

There are 110 athletes coming from eight nations: Brazil, Columbia, Cuba, Chile, Mexico, Puerto Rico, the U.S. as well as Canada.

For Lu, success will likely hinge on her inwards 1.5 pike.

“It’s a big one for me, I moved from fifth to second place at the nationals based on that dive,” Lu said. “My first dives weren’t the best but then my optional dives were [better].”

On top of winning double-gold at nationals, Paul picked up $10,000 from Petro Canada last week to go towards his diving career. It’s part of the Fuelling Athletes and Coaching Excellence program grant.

“It’ll mostly go towards travel,” said Paul.

If Paul’s future travel expenses to compete at this level weren’t so expensive, it would have been ironic that Paul won the grant in a year where Saanich hosted so many national and international events.

“It’s great competing at home, and at Pan Ams there’s less dives, just the two events, so there’s more time to train and focus on one board.”

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Carson Paul, 12, of Royal Oak is a hometown favourite for this week’s Pan Am championships at Saanich Commonwealth Place. Travis Paterson/News Staff

Saanich’s Kiera Lu, 11, qualified for this week’s Pan American Junior Diving Championships with a silver at the 2017 nationals in the one-metre event. Travis Paterson/News Staff

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