Commonwealth Games: Australian diver Kovchenko retires on eve of opening over paralysis fears

Australia's Taneka Kovchenko and Melissa Wu compete in the women's 10m platform synchro final during the diving competition at the 2017 Fina World Championships in Budapest.
Australia's Taneka Kovchenko and Melissa Wu compete in the women's 10m platform synchro final during the diving competition at the 2017 Fina World Championships in Budapest.PHOTO: AFP

GOLD COAST, Australia (AFP) - Heartbroken Australian diver Taneka Kovchenko retired on the eve of her home Commonwealth Games on Tuesday (April 3) after medical experts warned that she risked severe paralysis if one more dive went wrong.

The 23-year-old, who was a serious medal contender in the women's synchronised 10m platform on the Gold Coast, has been suffering chronic headaches and neck pain since the end of last year.

Scans showed two vertebrae have compressed her spinal cord and her doctor and neurologist said another bad landing could leave her a quadriplegic and dependent on a ventilator.

"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."

Kovchenko, who with team-mate Melissa Wu finished fifth at last year's world championships in Budapest in the synchronised 10m, described the threat of serious injury as "super scary".

"I thought of every scenario to try and continue diving till at least the end of the season, however the risks highly outweighed the options of continuing to dive and sadly had to make the heartbreaking decision to stop diving," she wrote on Instagram.

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," he 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 Wu had been expected to light up their event at the Commonwealth Games, having taken gold at November's Fina Diving Grand Prix on 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."

Teenager Teju Williamson will replace Kovchenko in the 10m individual event, and could also join Wu, 25, in the synchronised discipline.