Arc of the Divers

Jayden Pantel, a senior and a star for Columbia University’s diving team, went to the diving board, closed his eyes for a few seconds, and looked at the pool. Then he took a deep breath and hit the water. Pantel has blonde hair and blue eyes. He loves to laugh and crack jokes with his teammates. But when it is time to dive he is hyper-focused. He finished his career best finish—26th out of 48 divers at the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Men’s Swimming and Diving Championships on  March 23. He also placed 43rd on his three-meter dive, with a score of 302.90.

Jonathan Suckow, a freshman, gave Pantel a high five before climbing up to the board. He walked onto the diving board, took a deep breath, then he, too, dove into the water. Suckow is Caucasian and Asian, a petite man, quiet, serious, and a strategic diver. At his first NCAA’s competition he gracefully executed the highest three-meter dive finish in 18 years for Columbia divers. Suckow finished with an exceptional rookie season of 25th place finish, with a score of 340 points. 

Jonathan Suckow Diving At Columbia University’s Uris Pool (Photo courtesy of Columbia University)

In some ways it was a handoff. This was Pantel’s last diving home meet at Columbia’s Uris pool on February 3rd.  Pantel has been the team’s star. Suckow, meanwhile, is the team’s hope for the future. Together, they put together a formidable season.

Scott Donie has been the diving coach at Columbia for two years. Donie, with brown hair and hazel eyes. has spectacular credentials. He was the 1992 and 1996 United State Olympian that captured a gold medal in the 10-meter platform dive at the 1992 Olympic games in Barcelona. As a coach, he has been named the Eastern College Athletic Conference  and University Athletic Association  Championships men’s and women’s diving coach. Before he came to Columbia he was the men’s and women’s diving coach at New York University, where he trained nine divers to a combined 19 all-American honors. Donie makes sure that his divers are focused and consistent, according to Pantel. 

“This is a moment of history for Columbia’s diving team,” said Donie. “When I recruited Jonathan I knew that he was going to have an immediate impact on the team and on the entire league. He has really exceeded every expectation that I had.” Jayden, meanwhile, “has been the most dominant diver in the Ivy League in the past few years,” Donie said. “He has continued to be one of the best divers that we have ever seen at Columbia. I thought that him and Jayden would be great rivals and they were.”

The two excelled together. This year, in fact, was the first time in history that Columbia had two divers at the NCAA Men’s Swimming and Diving Championships.

Pantel, who is graduating in May, is from Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada, and he has been diving for more than half of his life. When he was four years old he started doing gymnastics with his sister, and it led him to diving. He is the captain of Columbia’s Swimming and Diving team. Pantel was also named Ivy League Ron Keenhold Career High Point Diver.

According to Donie, Pantel has been one of the strongest divers on Columbia diving team for the last three and a half years. He is the first diver in Columbia history to qualify for four consecutive NCAA Men’s Swimming and Diving Championships.

But Pantel’s diving career is ending with graduation. “It’s difficult giving up diving but I think that it’s time to move into maybe a more professional sphere,” Pantel said. He has been diving since he was five years old. “Diving is a continued effort. I just try to get a little bit better every day,” he said. “When you come to the pool you just want to see those incremental improvements. That’s what comes together on the day of competition.”

Jayden Pantel Diving Into Columbia’s Uris Pool (Photo courtesy of Columbia University)

Suckow has been diving since he was eight years old in his hometown of Geneva, Switzerland. “I remember going to the swimming pool, brushing my feet through the water and having fun,” Suckow said. “I was flabbergasted when I saw what the divers could do, so I decided to get on that board and do a couple of dives. It worked out for me pretty well. A couple of weeks later I decided to join the club.”

Suckow trained at different clubs because there were no sports at his school. He competed for Switzerland in international competitions. Then came the USA and Columbia. “At the age of 17, I thought that maybe I should change my environment,” he said. “I tried to find a place that would refresh my diving.”

Since Suckow has been on the swimming team he has made monumental leaps in his diving, according to Donie. “I think I owe it all to my coach,” Suckow said. “Because I think when you are young and you start diving, you do not know what you are doing.

“I have been improving since I have been on the swim team,” he said. “I will try my best to keep it up.”

But Suckow is also grateful for Pantel’s leadership. “Jayden pushes me to be a better diver,” said Suckow “I feel like I would stagnate if I did not have someone like him.”

Pantel, in turn, sees much potential in Suckow. “I am not at all sad that he is taking the mantle,” Pantel said. “I think that it is great that some of those records are gone because it is time for me to move on and to see someone else that really wants to improve,” he added. “Honestly Jonathan is my main competition. He is ranked fourth in the world under the age of 18. He is the guy to beat.”

Their coach agrees, and sees great potential for the freshman. “Jonathan really established himself as the number one diver in the league from his first meet,” Donie, said. “He broke Columbia’s three-meter record five times in the course of the season. His future—there is really no limit to how high he can go. He was our highest placing diver in 18 years.”

Suckow is looking forward to next year’s NCAA. So is his coach.