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Team GB diver Scarlett Mew Jensen: “That Olympic year was the worst of my life.”

Team GB’s Scarlett Mew Jensen on struggling with Olympic pressure, navigating grief and preparing for Paris 2024.

An Olympic Games debut should not be the worst experience of your life. However, as Team GB diver, Scarlett Mew Jensen, resurfaced after her opening dive in Tokyo, she decided it absolutely was.

Mew Jensen has been diving since she was eight and was one of Team GB’s youngest athletes when Tokyo 2020 finally got underway. Her career has been plagued with upheaval in a variety of forms, yet she speaks with clarity about the challenges she has faced over the last three years.

Mew Jensen competes at the World Championships in Fukuoka

From tearing a tendon in her bicep to becoming the recipient of a pair of earrings knitted by Tom Daley (a teammate she  labels ‘an absolute geezer’) Mew Jensen has had a lively start to her senior diving career.

Agony on Olympic debut

Such is her craft, Mew Jensen jumped straight in reflecting on the day of the Olympic preliminaries: “The whole time I was just shaking,” she said.
The nerves crawled into her head as Covid-19 lockdown prompted a totally empty stadium. The atmosphere she was craving has completely deserted her. The crowd and her family she can normally rely on to soothe the pulsing angst, at home, furtively and helplessly watching on.

It is a day she vividly remembers. Her face contorts into a grimace recalling it all.  “I’ve f*cked it” she texted her brother straight after her first dive wiping away a stream of tears. Her immediate pain highlighted a truly miserable year, one she frankly describes as “the worst year of my life.”

“All of a sudden I wasn’t enjoying the dream, but why am I not enjoying it?” she asked herself angrily.

“I’m all about the fightback. Normally I’d say it’s not over ‘til it’s over but this time it just hit me, I was done.”

This frustrating Olympic fallout prised up far too many questions, and virtually no answers.

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Mew Jensen competes in the Olympic preliminary round – Tokyo 2020

Now having understood her Olympic debut to be a learning curve, Mew Jensen compares the run-up to Tokyo with her current preparations for Paris 2024, stressing the importance of her mental health.

She said: “I really prioritise my mind now, probably even more than my body.”

She explains how in a bid to right the wrongs of Tokyo, she rushed back to training.

“I should’ve taken more time off. I didn’t realise I needed that time off, but I did, and that was my biggest mistake.

“This premature return was so mentally draining, but I’ve not even realised that until recently.” Her more structured approach to Paris has clarified the various mistakes she previously made.

She added: “Now I speak with my psychologist twice a week and we are already coming up with a plan for different outcomes in Paris.”

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Mew Jensen competes in the Olympic preliminary round – Tokyo 2020

David Jenkins: a brilliant coach and a dear friend

The only real sanctuary after a distraught Mew Jensen failed to progress into the semi-finals was her coach David Jenkins.
“He was like my dad. I even saw him more than my parents!” she reflected.

She explains how he was nothing but an inspiration, physically picking her up from her slumped-over despair.

“He was so pissed off for me, I was crying and crying and crying, and he was crying with me.”

A memory that appears to sum up David Jenkins perfectly is how instead of wallowing for too long, Mew Jensen recounts him saying, how excited he was for the next year, and for her to learn a new dive.

She recalls him saying: “You are 19 and you’ve been to an Olympic Games, this [performance] does not define you. People go to an Olympic Games at the end of their journey; this is just the start of yours.”

Matty Lee (left), David Jenkins (middle), and Mew Jensen pose with the Olympic rings in Tokyo

David Jenkins sadly died in October 2021, just a few months after Tokyo, adding a new dimension to the jarring emotional comedown Mew Jensen was already experiencing.

“I’ve got all this built-up tension and adrenaline and readiness, and all of a sudden, I don’t have a coach.

“I didn’t realise how much he impacted my career. When he was gone, a bit went from me too,” she explains.

Sacred are the memories created with Dave, as Mew Jensen refers to him. Despite such tumult in Tokyo, she acknowledges how she previously insisted on remembering everything that bookended the Olympics with a committed, but not necessarily constructive fondness.

“Everything that happened before he died, I just didn’t really talk about. I wanted to keep it all happy.” Noticeable, however, is the reflection and perspective she has gathered, now acknowledging that trying to block out an incredibly difficult period was not a helpful approach.

“I had to have three or four months off because I was grieving and struggling with an injury. I spoke to a therapist, and it was hard, really hard. It was the worst few months of my life.

“However, I now know it was the absolutely best thing I’ve ever done for my career.”

This acceptance of the past does not clash or undermine her happy memories of Dave.

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Mew Jensen covers her eyes as she edges closer to the individual final in Fukuoka

Becoming stronger
Fortunately, and testament to Mew Jensen’s astounding resilience, this enormous period of uncertainty gave rise to a rebirth, a reinterpretation of this gravity defying pressure, and ultimately a finer understanding of herself.

As Paris looms, managing her synchro commitments with her own individual pursuits is the current balance she is still learning to strike. A recent return to Japan, this time at the Summer 2023 World Championships in Fukuoka, sees Mew Jensen, along with her synchro partner Yasmin Harper, now sport a shiny silver medal.

Mew Jensen and Harper show off their World Championship medals in Fukuoka

Her anguish has significantly subsided and now feels much better managed. Having won GB’s first ever World Championship medal in the women’s 3m springboard synchro event, the expectations going into Paris are high and the pressure is rising.

However, she explains how her perspective and expectations have become far less lofty and ambiguous.

“My goal now is just to be ‘consistently average’ because if I maintain that, I’ll be absolutely fine,” she says.

Having taken two weeks off after the World Championships in July, Mew Jensen explains how on the first day she returned to training, rather than heading to the pool, she immediately sought out her psychologist.

“We needed to get to the bottom of how I was going to deal with this because I was already struggling.

“The fact that an Olympic medal is actually on the table is nuts to me and I don’t know how I’m going to navigate that throughout the year, and then also afterwards.”

It is moving to see Mew Jensen, still only 21, take charge of her mind and rediscover the composure that once abandoned her.

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Mew Jensen and Harper compete in the Women’s Synchronised 3m springboard preliminaries in Fukuoka 

The immediate fallout from Tokyo originally felt how most of us would feel peering over the edge of a diving board before leaping off. It now however takes the form of the manageable ripples that follow and gently ebb around oneself after a dive.

This reinterpretation of success is deliberate. The goals set are built on experience and perspective, rather than pure passion alone. It makes both the good dives and the bad ones easier to handle.

Mew Jensen, despite her youth, relaxed persona, and admirable modesty, truly has the world at her feet. It is no surprise that she is starting to reap the rewards that her perseverance has unlocked.

It is without doubt she will continue to morph into one of Britain’s diving success stories.

Author

  • Sam France

    Sam France is an avid tennis watcher and player, frequently found passionately raving about the WTA. A journalist with a passion for all things sport, culture, and politics, Sam is a committed Radio 4 listener. A big WSL fan, Sam is still searching for a Guro Reiten autograph. @SamFrance28