The era that put Plymouth so proudly on the diving map has come to an end.
Great Britain’s best-ever female diver and three-time Olympian Tonia Couch has called time on her illustrious 18-year career. Couch, Sarah Barrow, Tom Daley and coach Andy Banks were a remarkable quartet which took diving by the scruff of the neck to make Great Britain a force to be reckoned with for a whole generation.
With Banks now coaching the Australian national team; fellow synchro partner Barrow retiring and taking up a post as a coach and diving programme manager at Ireland’s National Aquatic Centre, and Tom Daley moving to Dive London, Couch has decided to concentrate on coaching at the Plymouth Life Centre, bringing on the next generation of local divers.
Couch tweeted: “It’s time to hang up the swimsuit. Eighteen incredible years as a diver. Travelled the world and I have made the most amazing friends.
“I have had the best synchro partners ever. I’ve loved every minute of it. Started off being the youngest on the team, then became the oldest on the team.
“I can’t believe it’s all over. Andy Banks has been a fantastic coach from the day I started. Thank-you so much. My family and friends have supported me all the way.
“I couldn’t have done it without you.”
She added: “I’ve had the most amazing 18 years achieving more than I ever could have imagined. I feel incredibly lucky to have had such a long career doing something I loved every day.
Next Chapter – Diving Coach
“Although I’m sad to be hanging up my diving costume, I’m excited by the next chapter of my life as a diving coach at the Plymouth Life Centre, helping unearth and train the next generation of diving stars.”
The 28-year-old Plymothian, who is due to marry Royal Marine Karl Thurgood next year, was an accomplished and competitive gymnast but took to diving at the age of ten when she participated in a trial in September 1999.
Her talent was immediately recognised as just four weeks later she’d won her first competition, a novice event at Crystal Palace in London.
Three years later, in February 2002, she became the youngest girl ever to qualify for the lottery-funded Junior Olympic Programme, when she took bronze in the junior girls’ platform event at the British Championships. This was the turning point in her career.
Couch last competed in the World Series competition alongside new partner Lois Toulson.
She made her major international debut at the 2005 World Championships in Montreal when she was only 16, before going on to finish fourth at the Commonwealth Games in Melbourne, Australia, 12 months later.
Couch sees reaching the Beijing 2008 individual ten-metre platform final on her Olympic debut as one of her career highlights, while she also finished fifth in the synchronised events at London 2012 alongside long-term fellow Plymothian Barrow and in Rio 2016 partnering Toulson.
In 2008 and 2009, her eighth-position finishes at the Olympics and World Championships were the best result by a British female for 20 years, securing her place in diving history.
She competed at the 2009 World Championships in Rome and at her second Commonwealth Games in 2010 in Delhi she gained fourth place with Barrow.
Couch has been at the top of British Diving for 12 years and in that time has won numerous international medals including silver at the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow and three medals at the European Championships, including gold in 2012.
Messages have come from all over the world including from Barrow, who tweeted: “Congratulations to my best friend and synchro partner for an incredible career. Truly an inspiration to the upcoming talent. Looking forward to working beside each other on poolside again.”
Team England said: “Congratulations on a fantastic career including a memorable Glasgow 2014!”
While fellow Plymothian and Olympic medallist Tom Daley added: “Tonia has been my best friend in diving for as long as I can remember and I’m going to miss my best friend coming on trips with me.
“She is the most successful British female diver I have ever known and she will leave a lasting legacy in the diving world.’”
And Banks said that it had been a “privilege” to work with Couch during a “prolific” 18-year career and that he was delighted to see her re- main in her home city.
“Having someone with her knowledge and experience is a great coup for the Plymouth programme and bodes well for the continued success of one of the very best diving centres in the UK,” he enthused.
Couch admits the departure of long-term Plymouth Diving head coach and mentor Banks in May had been “tough” for her to accept, but that there were other factors behind her decision to step away from com- petition.