Australian diver retires on eve of Games over paralysis fears

Taneka Kovchenko was set to compete in the 10m platform and women’s synchronised 10m platform at the Gold Coast.

Taneka Kovchenko competed in the Women's 10m Platform at the FINA Diving World Series Fuji.   -  Getty Images

Heartbroken Australian diver Taneka Kovchenko retired on the eve of her home Commonwealth Games today after medical experts warned that she risked severe paralysis if one more dive went wrong.

The 23-year-old, who had been set to compete in the 10m platform and women’s synchronised 10m platform at the Gold Coast, has been suffering headaches and neck pain since the end of last year.

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Scans confirmed two vertebrae have compressed her spinal cord and her doctor and neurologist said she could end up as a ventilator-dependent quadriplegic in the event of a bad landing.

“I have had an amazing 14 years diving, chasing my dream of representing Australia,” said Kovchenko, who hails from nearby Brisbane.

“I am grateful for every experience and opportunity I have been given. I am leaving the sport as an athlete proud of my accomplishments and with so many life skills.” Australian team diving manager Michael Hetherington said that he suspected Kovchenko was still in shock at her sudden forced retirement.

“She has been amazing, she really has,” Hetherington said.

“Whether it has sunk in, I’m not fully sure as yet. She came and spoke to the team in camp and very emotionally broke the news to the team.

“But she also realises there wasn’t really a choice... it wasn’t like she was just injured. Unfortunately the choice was made for her.” Kovchenko and partner Melissa Wu came just outside the medals in fifth at the world championships in Budapest last year.

But they took gold at November’s FINA Diving Grand Prix at the Gold Coast.

“I’m going to miss you so much up on the platform... I’m so proud of you and everything you’ve achieved,” an emotional Wu told Kovchenko following her sudden retirement.

“This is only the beginning of what you will continue to achieve in life. Thanks for being such a great team-mate and for always inspiring me to get the best out of myself.

“You’re one of the strongest people I know and I admire your courage and determination so much.” Teju Williamson will replace Kovchenko in the 10m individual event, and could also join up with Wu in the synchronised discipline.

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