April 23, 2015 at 10:30 am EST | by Kevin Majoros
Formation hurdles
diving, gay news, Washington Blade

Ben Takai competing at the IGLA World Championships in Honolulu in 2011. (Photo by Cliff Betita)

About 40 local LGBT sports teams and clubs gathered for the annual Team D.C. SportsFest. The event, held April 9, is an opportunity for the teams to recruit new athletes and a chance for members to mingle.

Washington is home to one of the largest LGBT sports communities in the world, but there are still a few major sports missing from the local offerings.

Last summer at the 2014 Cleveland/Akron Gay Games, Team D.C. sent athletes in close to 25 sports and medaled in 18 of those sports. Wrestling, ice hockey and diving are just a few of the sports that had no local representation. There was one local athlete in the wrestling offshoot sport of grappling.

While ice hockey and wrestling are definitely more popular in the Midwestern and northern United States, diving is contested all across the country. The LGBT masters divers who compete nationally are spread out in various cities and train with straight teams.

New York City and Paris are home to the largest LGBT diving communities in the world.  Croft Vaughn is the head diving coach for Team New York Aquatics and he was recruited in 2010 to launch its LGBT diving program.

Vaughn says it’s hard to have an LGBT masters diving team outside of a large metropolitan area, but not impossible.

“Most of the masters’ divers are former competitors who want to stay active in the community and train to keep their form and technique,” Vaughn says. “The inexperienced divers who come in are looking to discover something new.”

Competitions available for the LGBT diving community include the annual International Gay & Lesbian Aquatics Championships, the Gay Games, the World OutGames and the EuroGames. Most of the LGBT divers also compete in straight competitions.

In the platform portion of the sport, USA Diving has set rules as precautionary measures for the masters’ divers who hit speeds of 30 mph when they dive off the 10-meter platform.

“Dives with higher degrees of difficulty are only permitted off the 5 meter and 7 meter platforms,” says Vaughn. “For that reason, you don’t see many dives off the 10-meter platform in masters diving.”

The obstacles for someone who wants to start a diving team includes access to facilities, coaching and the dreaded Speedo, he says.

“It isn’t a sport that you can practice on your own, so you need good coaching,” says Vaughn. “Another hindrance is convincing people who have been heavily socialized to wear a speedo and put their bodies in awkward positions.”

Locally, there are masters diving teams at the Montgomery Dive Club and the Alexandria Dive Club. Both clubs offer access to good facilities and coaching.

Ben Takai grew up in Montgomery County and began his sports career in gymnastics at age 7. When a visiting Soviet coach pointed out that he was going to be too tall for the sport, he switched to diving and swimming.

The coach’s words turned out to be prophetic as Takai grew to 6 feet, 3 inches and went on to become an all-American diver and swimmer at Watkins Mill High School.

“Springboard divers are generally known for their strength and power,” Takai says. “Judges are looking for long lines in platform diving, so that event suited me because of my height and thin stature.”

Takai, 33, also competed as an out diver at Bates College in Lewiston, Me., and post-college joined the Montgomery Dive Club to train for one last competition.

As part of the contingent from the District of Columbia Aquatics Club, Takai traveled to Honolulu for the 2011 International Gay and Lesbian World Championships where he won three gold medals in diving and three gold medals in swimming.

He is no longer diving and points to several reasons including the wear and tear on one’s body from the sport.

“I have accomplished many fantastic things in diving and don’t feel the need to compete again,” says Takai. “However, there are many possibilities in this world.”

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