Understanding FINA's Degree of Difficulty Table for Diving

LONDON, ENGLAND - APRIL 27: Tom Daley of Great Britain competes in the Men's 10m Platform Final on day three of the FINA/NVC Diving World Series at the London Aquatics Centre on April 27, 2014 in London, England.
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In competitive diving, scoring is dependent on the established Degree-of-Difficulty standards set for each dive by the  Fédération Internationale de Natation (FINA). FINA is an organization that governs swimming, diving, synchronized swimming, water polo, and open-water swimming at the highest competitive levels.  

In diving events governed by FINA standards, a complex formula is used that assigns a point value to each dive. The scores from each of the judges (admittedly a score that has some subjectivity)  are multiplied by this degree-of-difficulty factor (a purely objective number), then the scores are averaged to produce the diver's score for that dive. 

The Degree of Difficulty factor for each dive is calculated on the basis of its body position, the number of somersaults and/or twists, and other factors. The D.D. scores for a particular dive may change over time based on official consensus by the governing body, and new dives are periodically added. 

Evolving Degree of Difficulty Charts

Over the years, the formulas for degree-of-difficulty in diving (as well as for other sports) have undergone changes as competitors become ever more skilled. There was a time when a diver with a program including optional dives with difficulty ratings of 3.0 could expect to be very competitive at the highest levels of competition, provided he or she executed well.

A perfectly executed dive with a 3.0 D.D. is still a very good dive, but with changes to the degree of difficulty formula and table, which became effective in September of 2009, the potential for a list of dives with a degree of difficulty (D.D.) over 4.0, makes a 3.0 program seem a bit mundane.

To put these changes in perspective, consider that at the Beijing  Olympics, the highest degree of difficulty used was 3.8—a reverse 2.5 somersaults with 2.5 twists in pike on both three- and 10-meter—a dive that at the time was not even listed on the D.D. table.

With the new version of the degree of difficulty chart from FINA,, there are now 13 dives listed in the table that have a D.D. over 4.0, as compared to only two dives in the 2005 version of the chart.  If a diver is so inclined, they now have the opportunity to compete for dives with a D.D. of 4.0 or better in all but the twisting and arm-stand categories.

This is topped off by a 309B on three-meter, a reverse 4.5 somersault in pike position, that claims the title as the most difficult “listed” springboard or platform dive at 4.8.

One clarification is in order, though—just because a dive is not listed on the table does not mean it cannot be performed. It just means that at the time the table was published, that particular dive had not been yet used in competition.

How Changes Are Introduced

Some of the new additions to the FINA chart occur because the dives are imagined—added to the chart to give divers something to shoot for. Such a strategy does work because once added to the chart, new dives that have never been performed are targeted by divers in competition. Other dives, though, reach the chart because creative divers develop them and perform them in competition. In fact, most changes to the table usually come about because competitors have created new dives. A full 24 dives in the new table were added because of new dives being performed. 

For example, in the case of 5255B (the reverse 2.5 somersaults with 2.5 twists), the dive was actually competed, being assigned a D.D. prior to competition using the degree of difficulty formula, without being yet listed in the chart at all. 

The remainder of the 46 changes to the chart were the result of the restructuring of the degree of difficulty formula. A total of 34 dives saw an increase in difficulty, while another 12 lost ground with D.D. reductions. 

4.5 Somersaults in All Directions

Prior to the new D.D. table revision, the only dive with a 9 on the end (indicating 4.5 somersaults) was a 109C, a forward 4.5 somersault in tuck position on both three-meter and 10-meter boards. In the current table, though, there are 9s in four categories (front, back, reverse and inward), and in both tuck and pike positions. Although you don't see these performed on a regular basis, considering the daring of today's divers and the fact that each dive carries a D.D. factor over 4.0, we can expect to see them attempted on a more regular basis. 

Lost Art of Multiple Twists

Another emphasis of change is a result of FINA making an effort to encourage the use of dives that emphasize twisting without multiple somersaults. Dives such as a triple twisting or quadruple twisting with 1.5 somersaults have seen an increase in difficulty, while dives such as a back or reverse 2.5 with .5 twists, saw a drop in D.D. The goal is to encourage better development of twisting skills, rather than adding twists simply for the sake of more difficulty.

What’s Next

As divers get stronger, as training methods improve, and as competition continues to push the boundaries of what is possible, it’s not hard to imagine the next round of changes including a dive with a D.D. of over 5.0! A back 4.5 with 1.5 twists might do the trick