Olympic diving history goes back to cliff diving in ancient times. In the 17th through 19th centuries, acrobats in Germany and Sweden developed a new hybrid of cliff diving and acrobatics by jumping off of cliffs and tall structures. The new acrobatic styles became the prototype of diving as an Olympic sport.
The Germans took platform diving to a new level during the formation of a diving club called Neptun in 1882. Neptun hosted international diving contests. At the same time, Swedish acrobats were jumping into lakes from high scaffolding. German divers emphasized the difficulty of the acrobatic feats performed during the dive. The Swedes were more interested in the thrill of jumping from very high places.
By the end of the 19th century, America took an interest in diving and hosted the first Olympic diving event during the St. Louis Summer Olympics in 1904. The contest was mainly between the Americans and the Germans. Thirty-year-old George Sheldon of St. Louis, an eye doctor, won the gold medal for the new Olympic sport called "fancy diving." Fancy diving was performed on a ten meter platform diving board. High diving became an Olympic sport in the 2008 Olympics. The "Men's Plunge for Distance" was a distance diving contest which did not last beyond the St. Louis games.
Olympic diving history began with male divers. However, women formed Olympic diving teams in the Stockholm Olympic games of 1912. There have been women's teams ever since.
The rules for deciding a good dive were confusing to judges in the early days of Olympic diving history. Germans, Americans and Swedes all had different ideas on what constituted a good dive. Sheldon's medal was actually formally protested because of the controversy. A committee met in Budapest in 1914 to discuss the rules for the proper judging of fancy diving and high diving techniques. German fancy diving techniques and Swedish high diving techniques became the standards for Olympic diving during this meeting. As the sport evolved, more meetings were held to refine the rules. The second meeting was in 1928.
Germans dominated early Olympic diving history with the exception of the St. Louis hometown hero of 1904. It wasn't until 1928 when Americans consistently won gold medals for diving. Both men and women from America snatched up 44 out of 60 gold medals during the 64 year span between 1924 and 1988. However, East Germany's Ingrid Kramer won gold medals for the women's springboard diving team in 1960 and 1964.
Olympic diving has continued to evolve throughout its history. The 2000 Sydney Olympics recognized synchronized diving as an Olympic sport after a noncompetitive demonstration during the 1996 Atlanta games. Synchronized diving is when two divers jump at the same time.