THEY may not be related by blood, yet Kiara Field and Kaitlyn Allan share a striking physical resemblance and their families are such close friends that the girls refer to each other as “cousins”.
But perhaps the most spectacular thing this pint-sized pair have in common is their amazing talent for diving.
Despite taking up the sport less than 12 months ago, both girls are bound for Brisbane in April after qualifying for the national age championships.
Kiara, eight, and Kaitlyn, nine, will compete against Australia’s best in the 11-and-under age group at the prestigious meet.
But they have been turning heads in Bendigo all summer long.
The sight of these tiny girls twisting, turning and somersaulting off the springboards at the Bendigo Aquatic Centre during their four weekly training sessions attracts plenty of attention.
And when bathers see a tiny eight-year-old perform a perfect handstand balanced on the edge of the five-metre platform, then plunge into the pool below, they stare wide-eyed in amazement.
Even Bendigo Divers coach Heather Tyter can barely contain her excitement at the prospect of helping the pair develop over coming years.
“They joined us in February and March last year, Kiara a month earlier than Kaitlyn,” she says.
“Now they are country champions and have qualified for nationals on all three boards.”
With a background in tumbling at Palmer’s Gym, the acrobats took to diving right from day one.
“They are tiny, but very strong and they’re always pushing themselves to the limit,” Tyter says.
“At our dryland centre in the Mundy Street stadium, they love working hard to learn good technique, as well as new dives, landing on mats.
“Their favourite challenge is to see who can stay up the longest in their handstands - a wonderful training for platform diving.
“The girls are great friends and enjoy the competition in a friendly way, helping each other to master new skills. They are a real pleasure to coach and I enjoy every minute with them.
“I’m looking forward to seeing them dive compete in synchro events because they know each other so well and are really ‘together’.”
Tyter also gains a personal sense of satisfaction from coaching Kiara. When the Field family first inquired about joining the diving club, she discovered she was the promising youngster’s great aunt, with the families having lost touch in recent years.
Mum Sally Field says it is nice to have re-established that link.
“It all started when Kiara was diving into my mum and dad’s pool one day and really looked like she had some talent,” she says.
“So we rang the aquatic centre to inquire about diving and they put us on to Heather.
“Kiara picked it up quite easily and she absolutely loved it from her very first training session.
“She knows her body extremely well from tumbling and is quite strong for her size. We are very proud of her, but the most important thing is that she keeps on enjoying her diving.”
Mrs Field says Kiara seems to have no fear when diving, but it’s a different matter for mum.
“The first time she was on the five-metre board, I was very nervous. And sometimes when she’s up there learning a new dive, I feel like I can hardly watch.
“It can be daunting because she’s so small, but it doesn’t faze her. She has belly-whacked and face-planted, but she just gets up and has another go.”
Kiara is in grade three at Holy Rosary Primary School while her diving buddy Kaitlyn is a year ahead at Epsom Primary.
Between them, the pair won three gold and four silver medals at the recent Victorian country diving championships and associated Ripntear meet, competing in the 11-and under section.
Kaitlyn’s older sister Jessica, 11, is also showing promise on the diving boards and earned her own gold at the country titles.
It was a great performance, given the Allan girls returned from a family holiday in China the day before the championships and hadn’t trained for three weeks in the lead-up to the meet.
Mum Sharyn Allan says her girls followed Kiara into diving and it had now taken over from tumbling as their number one sport.
“They always loved water and swimming and diving into the pool at home,” she says.
“But it’s amazing how far they have all come, when you think they haven’t even been diving for 12 months.
“Kaitlyn knows she has qualified for nationals, but she really doesn’t understand how big a deal that is.”
Bendigo team-mate Abby Rowley, 13, will also be in action at nationals.
Throughout summer, the young diving squad trains four times a week in Bendigo and they are presently preparing for the state titles at the end of February.
They travel during winter to the Melbourne Sports and Aquatic Centre, where they have access to an “air bubble” device that uses compressed air to churn the water, turning it a more visible white and softening the impact - ideal for learning high-difficulty dives.
The Bendigo club would love a local “bubble” and already has a large air compressor that could be used in the pool here. It hopes to get council approval so divers from the region can enjoy the benefits without having to travel.
Mrs Allan and Mrs Field both say the girls are lucky to have such a dedicated coach in Tyter, who often has husband Bob at her side to provide plenty of extra support for the kids.
Not to mention chocolate.
Asked what they liked best about diving, Kiara and Kaitlyn stood arm-in-arm and giggled their reply.
“The chocolates that Bob gives us when we do good dives!”