The husband of British Olympic diver Monique Gladding has revealed that he feared his wife had been killed when she struck her head on a concrete diving platform in a terrifying accident in Russia.
Steve Gladding, who was at the World Cup meeting, watched helpless as his wife, a medal hopeful for next year's London Olympics, smashed into the 18in-thick platform while coming out of the first somersault in the 10m synchronised competition.
Monique, 29, was knocked unconscious and, while her 16-year-old dive partner Megan Sylvester completed the routine, Gladding's apparently lifeless body plunged into the pool and disappeared beneath the surface.
While a stunned Sylvester looked in vain for her partner, another British diver, Nick Robinson-Baker, jumped fully clothed into the water, followed by Steve Gladding and Russian coach Sergei Kutsmanov.
Robinson-Baker dived to the bottom of the pool to retrieve Monique, whose unconscious body had been below water for almost 20 seconds.
She was still unconscious as she was dragged from the pool by Robinson-Baker, Kutsmanov and a woman member of the British party.
For several minutes, frantic officials tried to help Monique as blood from her injuries coloured the poolside.
Steve Gladding says they were the most dreadful minutes of his life because, at that point, he feared his wife might be dead.
Back home with Monique in Sheffield but still understandably shaken by the experience, Gladding said: 'For some inexplicable, freak reason, Monique took off incorrectly and that led to her hitting her head and being knocked unconscious.
'She hit the water and sank to the bottom of the pool. Nick dived in and we pulled her from the pool but she was completely unresponsive. I didn't know if she was breathing. We couldn't find a pulse.
'To be honest I thought we'd lost her, I thought she could be dead. I just removed myself to let the medics work on her and walked away and, for about four minutes, I was standing there having a meltdown, believing she was gone. It was horrendous.
'I didn't have a clue whether she was with us or not, but as soon as they made it clear she was alive, I went to hold her head and help with the recovery. Thank God we had such brilliant support staff around us.'
Another horrified witness, Andrei Beketov, the head coach of the Russian diving team, said: 'Monique hit the board with her head and then fell straight down like a stone into the water.
'I was standing there by the pool and it looked horrible. I was sure Monique was very seriously injured. Others thought so, too. There were fears initially that she could suffer brain damage. By the time she hit the water she was already unconscious and began to sink immediately. It was a nightmare to watch.'
Gladding, who also coaches his South African-born wife, said her injury was 'like a scalping' and had left a 'gaping' head wound, which has now been stitched.
'Monique clipped the top of her head against the board, which pulled the skin off the top of her head,' he said.
'I didn't perceive a lot of blood at the time, but she lost half a litre.
'In some ways it's fortunate it was the top of the head. If she had smacked her forehead then I don't think we would be talking about Monique still being here.'
Monique was taken to hospital and a leading neurosurgeon oversaw a brain scan, CT scan and spinal examination.
Bar whiplash and the head wound, there appeared to be no serious damage, although Gladding said his wife was still 'drifting in and out'.
The accident happened on Saturday morning at Penza, a town 350 miles south-east of Moscow.
Monique spent much of the rest of the day asleep only to wake with excruciating head pain at 4am on Sunday as the post-injury swelling peaked.
She had been due for release that day but the doctors kept her in for two further days of observation.
'The last thing I remembered was looking at the scoreboard and seeing us in the silver medal position ahead of our third dive,' she said.
'Since the accident I've got a hazy recollection that I felt slightly off-balance just as we began the dive, but I recall thinking "You're in competition, you have to go".
'And that was it. The next thing I remember was Lucy, the physio, giving me oxygen, though I still don't know if that was poolside or in the ambulance. I've got images in my mind of people, and places, but it's sketchy. I didn't really start to properly come round until I was in surgery being stitched.'
By Tuesday, she had been cleared to leave hospital and the couple made a 24-hour trip home to Sheffield, first via train to Moscow and then by plane.
The 'severe' headaches of the first few days and the acute neck pain have subsided.
A hospital check-up on Friday revealed whiplash that could take four to six weeks to heal, perhaps longer. The head wound should be healed in another 10 days.
The Gladdings have already consulted a psychologist about the mental repercussions of the accident. For all divers, hitting their head on the board or platform is their worst nightmare.
Tom Daley, who has twice struck his head on the platform, said: 'It's the thing I fear most. I don't stand on the edge too long and I don't look down. I just count "one, two, three" and go.'
Steve Gladding says his wife is a 'determined young lady' who wants to 'go back up and face it [diving from 10 metres] when she's ready'.
Monique describes herself as 'determined' but acknowledges that she may be nervous when the time comes to dive again.
'From the moment I came round I started processing what it will take to go back up there again,' she said.
'I'm determined. I'm sure in my mind that I can come back from this. I can learn from it. I can be better. I can be more accurate.'
The couple flew out of Heathrow yesterday for a holiday with friends and family in South Africa. Monique will miss the upcoming European Championships and the World Cup in Sheffield and says the year 'is up in the air'.
But the London Olympics 'absolutely' remain the target.
Husband Steve said: 'For now we just want to get some sunshine, gather our thoughts and then see where we're at.'