ATHENS'04

DIVING

Some strange twists of fate

JONATHON GATEHOUSE September 6 2004
ATHENS'04

DIVING

Some strange twists of fate

JONATHON GATEHOUSE September 6 2004

DIVING

ATHENS'04

Some strange twists of fate

JONATHON GATEHOUSE

TWO ONCE-IN-A-LIFETIME comebacks in one week were a little much to ask for. Two in one evening proved a request beyond all reason. Diver Alexandre Despatie conjured one silver medal from thin air in Athens, but his newfound powers failed him on the Games’ final Saturday. Heading into the final round of the men’s 10-m platform in a dead heat—42/100ths of a point separated the top three competitors—the 19-year-old Montrealer seemed perfecdy positioned to cement his status as one of the diving world’s clutch performers. But on a night where the title ended up being decided by misses rather than hits, Despatie made one error too many, finishing a heartbreaking fourth.

Red-faced—from the force of repeatedly plunging three storeys into a pool, rather than embarrassment—a sombre Despatie, the world 10-m champion in 2003, tried to put his frustration

into words. “Sometimes in competition you get excited and you want it a little too much,” he said. “Maybe that’s what happened. I don’t know. But I’ll remember it for a long time. It was a bad day.” In almost a carbon copy of the men’s 3-m springboard competition, Despatie struggled early in the final, failing to cleanly land his second dive, a mind-boggling front 4V2 somersault. And like his silver-medal performance, he stormed

back, earning three perfect 10s on his next dive. But this time he couldn’t sustain the effort. A poor fourth dive dropped him out of the medals. His competitors, two Chinese and an Aus-

tralian, never gave him another opportunity to climb back onto the podium.

It was a disappointing end to an Olympics that held so much promise for the Canadian team, which hoped to break the Chinese dominance of the sport. In his 3-m comeback—Despatie nailed his final three dives to dig himself out of a deep hole and steal the silver medal—Canada’s coaches had seen the great leap forward that they had been an-

ticipating since Despatie burst onto the world scene as a skinny 13-year-old, winning a Commonwealth gold in Kuala Lumpur in 1998. Fourth on the 10-m tower in Sydney-edged out of a medal by Dmitri Sautin, the Russian diving legend he relegated to bronze in the Athens springboard—he seemed to lack only an Olympic medal to mark him as one of the sport’s elite. Michel Larouche, who has worked with Despatie since he was five, says the diver has all the calling cards of a champion—talent, spirit and will—but needs to prove it on a consistent basis. “Alex was the only one not diving at the calibre he can do it,” he said after the 10-m final. “It would have changed the entire competition.” Instead, the dream comeback ended up as a short-lived reverie between nightmare 10-m tower competitions. In the women’s event, Emilie Heymans, a 22-year-old from St-Lambert, Que., who is renowned for her sang-froid on the tower, had gold within her grasp going into the final dive. She was just 4.68 points behind the eventual winner, Chamelle Newbery of Australia. With everything on the line, Heymans, the 2003 world champion, over-rotated on a back 2lk somersault IV2 twist, slapping the water and sinking her medal hopes. “I choked,” she later told reporters. An NBC camera crew followed the diver as she calmly walked off the pool deck into the changing area where, out of sight of her fans and coaches, she collapsed to her knees and bawled. A fourthplace finish to add to the bronze she captured with Blythe Hartley in the 10-m synchro event was no consolation. “I blew my chance, and there’s nothing that you can do about it. That’s the worst thing,” says Heymans, who is uncertain if she wants to put herself through the grinder at a third Olympic Games. “You just have to go forward.”

Two medals in the diving pool, instead of the hoped-for three or four, is a disappointment that will stick with the team over the next four years. Despatie won’t get the triumphant Olympic homecoming he was dreaming of. “It’s going to be a whole lot different. It’s going to be hard to see their faces and to see what people have to say,” he said. “But you know, I do dive for myself. This time didn’t go like I wanted, but there’ll be a next time.”