Bulgarian diver Dimitar Isaev knows what it takes to be a champion.
The 24-year-old has dedicated his life to the sport of diving, spending time in the gym, pool and the classroom in order become the best diver possible. “I am often asked why I am so serious,” Isaev says. “But, I am a perfectionist, and I look for the best.”
His perfectionism and training has led him to several top 30 finishes at major competitions, including an 18th place finish in the 10-meter platform event at the 2019 European Diving Championships.
Isaev spoke with VMAN about his training routine, his biggest inspirations, and his Olympic-sized goals.
VMAN: How did you initially get into diving and when did you decide to take it seriously?
Dimitar Isaev: When I was 7 years old, my coach, Georgi Chobanov, came to my school to select kids for his class. He liked me, but my mother didn’t let me to classes because there was no one to take me to training late at night. Two years later, my coach met me by chance at the swimming pool when my sister and I had signed up for swimming lessons, and he urged me to talk to my mother again. I don’t know if it was because of him insisting, or because it was summer and classes were during the day, but my mother agreed, and I went to my first diving training.
From a young age, I was very disciplined, I always did what my coach instructed me to do. I’m not sure when I took this sport really seriously, I think it happened naturally over the time. I progressed more and more, and I devoted myself to sports and now this is my life. I’m grateful to my coach, because if it wasn’t for him there would be no diving in Bulgaria.
VMAN: What was a typical day like attending National Sports Academy Vasil? How does it differ from regular high schools?
DI: Since we don’t have an indoor pool for diving in Bulgaria, it’s necessary to train in the gym. The main team usually trains abroad, where they have indoor diving pools. There have been years which, when we attended all camps and competitions, we have been away from home for half a year.
Therefore, when I finished primary education, I enrolled in a sports school, where I had the opportunity to study independently and travel. It wasn’t easy, but I managed to finish successfully, though I never experienced student life. But, I am currently studying for a Master’s degree in Sports Psychology.
VMAN: When you’re about to dive, what are some things you say to yourself? What goes through your head?
DI: Before I dive, I always think about how to do it right. I visualize every move and focus on the important moments in the dive itself that determine the end result. Before I get on the diving board, I always do imitation exercises, recreating the dive by marking the main points on the floor.
VMAN: Who are some role models you look up to or are inspired by?
DI: I’ve never been one of those people who say, “I want to be like him”. The most important thing for me is to be a good person and treat others with love and understanding. I am inspired by music, ballet, and dance. I adore them, they give me a lot of energy and motivation. Even in difficult times, they give me hope and peace of mind that everything will be fine.
VMAN: How do you prepare for a competition? Do you have any rituals or go-to playlists you fall back on?
DI: My preparation for competition is not much different from my regular training routine. The only difference is that psychologically, I try to isolate from everything around me.
I use a formula from sports psychology to build the ideal competitive state, and I actually built this during class with colleagues and my teacher. It’s strictly individual, and consists of several phrases that have a psychologically positive effect on the personality.
VMAN: Do gymnastics, dance, and flexibility play role in the diving? If so, how do you train for those?
DI: Gymnastics is the foundation of diving. There is no way to go straight to the pool and perform any dive without gymnastics training. Because we don’t have an indoor pool for diving in Bulgaria, we spend a lot of time in our gym, developing control over our bodies. Of course, our training is not the same as real gymnasts, but we have a lot of common exercises.
For precise training, we use the trampoline somersault and twisting belts, but I don’t like to use the twisting belts very much. We also do all kinds of acrobatic exercises on the air track to develop coordination and speed. In diving, flexibility is very important so that you can perform each movement freely and quickly, so after every workout I do stretching exercises.
I also love going to ballet – it sets me free and I feel extremely good after it. In my opinion, it is extremely important in terms of the beauty with which the jumps must be performed. I want my jumps to be beautiful and artistic.
VMAN: What are your goals for the future in your professional career?
DI: My training is currently focused on the European Championships in August in Rome. Next year, qualifications for the 2024 Olympic Games in Paris begin, which is my biggest goal.