Alexandre Despatie calls himself a "peoples person."
But he met his match on June 30, when he was invited to a private barbecue in Ottawa, where he met Prince William and his wife, Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge - otherwise known as Will and Kate.
Despatie, 26, of Laval, Que., is diving royalty in Canada, having made headlines since he won a Commonwealth Games gold medal when he was only 13. But when he watched the young royal newlyweds navigate the crowd of about 130 people in the room - some athletes, some students, some fresh-faced young army cadets - he was struck by their laid-back, never-ending focus on meeting them all, two minutes here, two minutes there.
"I've lived it on a much, much smaller scale," Despatie said. "Every once in a while, I meet people all day, and then it's a challenge to keep your focus on the one person you're talking to. But they give you their full attention, and they really listen to what you're saying and they are interested in what you have to say. And they are so kind and so nice. It was a special moment."
During their chat, Prince William told Despatie he was most likely going to all of the pool events at the London Olympics next year. Kate exclaimed she had always been afraid of diving, after having been pushed from a high board as a child.
"They are probably the most famous people in the world right now," Despatie said. "But they really give you the feeling that they are just people, really, and that to me, was fantastic."
With future heir to the British throne among the spectators, Despatie says it will make his fourth Olympics even more special. He has a princely record in the pool when royal eyes are watching. He won two Commonwealth Games gold medals when Prince Edward, the Earl of Wessex, was in the seats.
But first, Despatie has to get himself to the Olympics.
He missed the first qualifying event in mid-July - the world aquatics championships in Shanghai, China - because he was still rehabilitating his many ailments, chief among them at the moment: tendinitis in his left knee.
It's an important knee. It's his hurdle leg, the one that takes the load to get him off the board. He's been diving for 21 years, doing the same things the same way countless times and all of the twists and thrusts have thrown his body off balance. He's had a tender back since he was 14. But it wasn't until last December, when his knee flared up that he realized he had to do something different.
Working with the B2ten athlete funding and development group, Despatie found out that his left hip locked, causing a torque movement during his dives, which affects his back, knee and neck, says Mitch Geller, chief technical officer for Diving Canada.
Now, the diver is on an intense program to regain mobility and to realign his body, starting with simple exercises that eventually will become more specific. He won't be back in the water until September.
"I know for the first time in my life that I'm doing everything I can do so that, next year, there won't be any injuries," Despatie said.
He has two more ways to qualify for the 2012 Olympics: by winning the Pan American Games in Mexico in October, or finishing among the top 18 at a diving event in London in February.
Geller isn't worried that Despatie won't get a spot.
Despatie's Olympic voyage has never been smooth. At his first, at Sydney in 2000, he was only 15. He finished fourth, close on the heels of a bronze medal.
He was the reigning world champion when he went to the 2004 Athens Games, but finished fourth in the tower event and second in the three-metre springboard. Even the silver medal wasn't easy to take, although it was the first Olympic medal won by a male Canadian diver.
"It was difficult for a while," Despatie admitted. "A certain part of Athens has not been fully resolved in my inside self. Athens was tough. But it's part of a journey."
Despatie was overjoyed to win a silver medal at the 2008 Beijing Games, after overcoming back problems and a broken bone in his foot.
With two silver medals in his cupboard, the Olympic gold is still missing from his résumé - and that's a big hole, considering he's the only diver to have won world titles on all three boards (one metre, three metres, 10-metre platform).
He's not going to London to finish second this time.
"I have a little over a year to get ready for London, and trust me, when I'm there, it will be to win, for sure," he said.Report Typo/Error
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