Melissa Wu on pressure, platforms and being a veteran
Melissa Wu was just 13 when she competed in her first Commonwealth Games and 12 years later, she is a Commonwealth Games champion.
Wu won the women's 10m platform final at Optus Aquatic Centre on Thursday 12 April her first individual Commonwealth Games gold medal.
In second place leading into her final dive, she performed under immense pressure and executed a gold medal-winning dive.
"It means so much to me, especially being at the Commonwealth Games because that's where it all started for me," she said.
"That was the start of my career (Melbourne 2006) and now to be at a second home games towards the end of my career, to be able to do that, I'm just so happy and so proud."
Like Wu said, it all started at the Melbourne 2006 Games. When the spotlight focused on the diving competition, the world witnessed a scene that would become one of the most memorable moments of the Games.
A tiny Australian diver standing on the pool deck, competitors decades her senior towering over her small frame.
In Melbourne, Wu launched onto the world stage, winning silver in the 10m synchronised platform event and finishing fifth in the individual 10m platform.
Two years later, she claimed silver in Beijing in the same event, becoming the youngest Australian to win an Olympic medal in diving.
Now 25, she’s often referred to as a ‘veteran’ of the sport, a strange way to describe someone in their mid-20s, but Wu knows her depth of experience is unusual for an athlete her age.
With experience comes confidence, but it also attracts pressure and an acute awareness of the expectation resting on her shoulders.
“[Melbourne] was this big whirlwind and I was really naïve, so I just soaked it all up and enjoyed it without going in with all that pressure,” Wu told GC2018.com.
“You only get that opportunity when you’re young and first starting out and after that, you’re expected to do well.
“It was definitely easier when I was younger and chasing than trying to stay at the top.
“I think that’s the same for any athlete in any sport. Getting there definitely isn’t easy, but you’re working towards something and you haven’t achieved it yet.
“When you get there, being able to maintain that, especially over a period of 10 plus years is really difficult. But then as you get experience, you learn how to mix it up, which is what I’ve been doing in the last couple of years, trying to mix up my training a bit, keep it fresh, keep things new and find new ways to get a better performance out of myself.”
The Brisbane-born diver has faced her share of setbacks and injuries throughout her career.
She admits it’s been tough.
Injury prevented her from competing at the Australian trials and she was hit with another obstacle on the eve of GC2018, when her synchronised partner Taneka Kovchenko had to retire due to injury. With just days to prepare, Wu competed with Teju Williamson in the synchronised 10m platform - their first competition together - and finished fourth.
In 2017, Wu sharpened her focus on preventing and managing injuries, but even with the most conscientious approach, she has learned that sometimes it's just part of being an athlete.
But Wu has shown that with determination, preparation and a strong mind, athletes can overcome even the most persistent obstacles and win gold. After all, it's worth it.
"I am battling injuries every day and I missed the trials because of a neck injury and a knee injury," Wu said.
"I came back this year from back injuries and wrist injuries and there are just so many injuries, but I just keep staying positive and push through and I know it's all worth it in the end."
Wu has proudly worn the green and gold at every major international competition over the years, but she is enjoying being part of Australian diving more than ever.
It’s partly due to her newfound ‘veteran’ status.
“For so long I was the youngest and everyone would talk about how young I was, then all of a sudden I was a veteran, there wasn’t really an in between period,” she said.
“It was interesting because I just learned things by watching what was going on around me but I never really formed close bonds with my teammates.
“More of my friendships were with my competitors my age from overseas, but not really within the team.
“I’m called the veteran, which I am I guess in terms of experience and my career, but this is the first time that I feel like I’ve formed very strong friendships with everyone.
“I try to help out the younger guys where I can and I feel like we’re very close.”