With four Olympic medals under her belt and countless titles and accolades collected over two decades, Emilie Heymans has decided now is the right time to end her professional diving career.
The 31-year-old made her retirement official on Wednesday at Centre Claude Robillard, the Montreal training facility where it all started for her in 1993.
The veteran athlete leaves the pool after winning medals in four consecutive Games — becoming the first female diver and first Canadian summer Olympian to do so.
“I still took a few months to make my decision because it is not a very easy decision to make for an athlete,” a teary-eyed Heymans told a news conference. “Diving is what I have done all my life and I love it.”
The soul-searching gave her the answer she was looking for: now is the right time to bow out.
“I think I have achieved all the goals I wanted to achieve,” Heymans said. “I do not think I could do more by staying active a year or two more.
“I was also very fortunate to realize my dream — the Olympics — four times and to win a medal at every opportunity.”
She also accumulated 84 podium finishes in international competition, including 14 titles. She picked up 38 national titles between 1999 and 2012.
The Belgian-born Heymans moved to Canada shortly after turning one year old and grew up near Montreal. She started out in gymnastics but was too big. She decided to switch to diving at age 11.
She won her record-setting last Olympic medal at the 2012 Summer Games in London, grabbing a bronze in the three-metre synchro springboard event with partner Jennifer Abel. It was Canada’s first medal at those Games.
Three of her four medals came in synchro events with three different partners.
Heymans also won a pair of medals in the 10-metre synchro: silver in Sydney with Anne Montminy in 2000 and bronze with partner Blythe Hartley in Athens in 2004. She also won an individual silver in Beijing in 2008.
To that, add nine World Cup and world championship medals, including a 10-metre gold medal in 2003. She also snagged five medals at the Commonwealth Games and another seven at the Pan American Games.
Two moments stand out for Heymans: her first qualification in Montreal for the Sydney Games which allowed her to realize the dream of being able to compete at an Olympics.
The second was the individual 10-metre platform silver in Beijing.
“It’s really hard to do a perfect competition and for me the final was really, really perfect,” Heymans said. “To have been able to do it at the Olympics and in the finals, I think it’s one of the biggest dreams of all athletes to do their best at the Olympics.”
Heymans singled out a number of people who helped in her success, including coach Yihua Li, who took over in 2006 after her split from Michel Larouche a year earlier.
She also thanked her trainer, Alain Delorme, who helped her bring speed and height to her jumps, thus allowing her to compete with Chinese divers who had dominated the pool in recent years.
“I don’t usually get emotional that much, but this is really a big step for me,” said Heymans.
“I put 100 per cent in it but there are other people who also put 100 per cent in it ... I was really around awesome people.”
The last of her diving partners, Abel, called Heymans’ retirement a huge loss for Canada.
“Emilie made her mark in history,” said Abel, 21. “Four medals in four consecutive Games, that’s a feat that won’t soon be repeated any time soon.”
As for Heymans, she’ll continue with a new passion: fashion.
The young entrepreneur has created her own line of swimwear, which will be featured on a Quebec reality television show in a few weeks time. Her next goal will be to create an online presence and have her business grow.
Heymans said she’s happy to offer advice to anyone who comes calling but she’s not convinced coaching is in her future.
“I don’t think I’d be a good coach,” she said with a laugh. “Not for now.”