Meaghan Benfeito and Roseline Filion have been a tower diving team for seven years -- long enough to know how to compensate for the slight differences in their styles, and long enough to perform as a unit.
The two are well-matched as they approach the London Summer Olympics with their eyes on the medals podium. They finished seventh at the Beijing Olympics but could improve to win a medal in London based on their recent performances under coach Cesar Henderson at CAMO (Club Aquatique Montreal Olympique).
Canada ranks third in women’s platform synchronized diving, according to governing body FINA. Benfeito and Filion won three consecutive international medals in the spring. At the FINA World Cup in February they won the silver medal and twice at the diving World Series in March, Benfeito and Filion took third-place bronze medals off the 10-metre platform at Beijing and Dubai. In Beijing, the Quebec twosome had 326.10 points, 10 better than they scored in Dubai, and 1.38 points behind the Mexican silver medalists.
Summer is coming fast and Filion (5 feet tall and 115 pounds) and Benfeito (5-foot-1 and 110 pounds) are searching to be more alike as they chase the top-ranked Chinese pair of Ruolin Chen and Hao Wang.
The Canadians started synchronized diving under coach Michel Larouche, Benfeito said. He matched up two solo tower divers -- Filion is still fifth internationally as an individual and Benfeito seventh -- because he saw how their similarities in size and style. They had the potential to mirror each other.
“He put us together, first because we are similar divers and both short,” the 23-year-old Benfeito said. “Cesar has us do a lot of dryland training off the water, and it helps a lot when we get to practice. Having to do everything the same helps a lot...
“We’re similar divers and train with the same coaches so we have the same techniques... but her weaknesses are my strengths and my weaknesses are her strengths...we put them together and 95 per cent of the time -- it works.”
“To be more identical, I’d have to spin a little faster in the air,” says Filion, 24.
“Meaghan’s a quick diver, she’s super-fast in the air and I’m a bit slower, working on my technique. For Meaghan to be more like me, she probably only has to work on consistency... I’m well known for being consistent.”
What has been consistent about them is their presence on international podiums. Benfeito signaled she belonged in international company when she won a solo bronze medal at age 16 at the 2005 World Championships in her hometown of Montreal. In 2006, the pair from CAMO won the bronze medal at the Commonwealth Games and followed up that performance with a fourth place finish at the 2007 World Championships.
In 2008 Benfeito and Filion finished seventh at the Beijing Olympic Games. In 2009, they took two silver medals and one bronze in four World Series of diving stops, and added two ore golds medals and a silver in other meets for six international synchro medals in 2009.
Benfeito was the most successful Canadian diver on the national and international scene in 2010 with two gold medals at CAMO Invitational, and various stops on the FINA Grand Prix and FINA World Series. The team of Benfeito and Filion mounted the podium at every national and international event they entered in 2010. They dominated 10-metre synchro with medals in all eight of their events, including the FINA World Series, FINA World Cup and Canada Cup. Meaghan won solo gold at the senior national championships and silver at the Spain Grand Prix on 10-metre before her season was cut short due to injury, forcing her to withdraw from the Commonwealth Games.
In 2011, the pair picked up five silver medals at World Series and Grand Prix events to go along with a gold medal at the Summer Nationals in Edmonton. Benfeito placed fourth on tower at the FINA World Aquatic Championships, a result that secured Canada a 2012 Olympic berth. At the Pan American Games, she closed out the year with a solo bronze and silver on 10-metre synchro with Roseline.
“Right now looking at the individual tower plus synchro in the Olympics,” Benfeito said. “Some things we have to change (in the synchro routine), for instance my height (of jumping) versus her height; or my spinning versus... but 99 per cent of the time it’s always on.”
Benfeito said the pair does not spend time in studying the opposition on video. They’re most concerned with getting their own moves right, not psyching themselves out.
“We never actually visualize or see the other people dive in competition,” she said. “We do have a TV that shows us our dives and we get to see our coach and our dive so that we know what we did wrong and what we did right.”
Filion, who was born in Laval, moved to Montreal to get closer to school and to training centre.
She said being paired with Meaghan in 2005 was as much a matter of opportunity as a marriage of skills by former coach Michel Larouche.
“We’d both qualified for the Canada Cup that year and there was no synchro team. We’d tried synchro for fun earlier that year and it was suggested we try it for Canada Cup. No one else was doing it and we were already qualified.. We practiced one, two weeks before the competition and ended up with a bronze medal, so that’s where it started,” Filion said.
She’s been in four World Championships, four World Cups and one Olympics in her career.
“The 2005 World Championships in Montreal was my most memorable moment ever with the bronze medal there. We’ve had a few bumps in the road since then. In 2010 we got back on the podium, being third... That was a relief for us because we’d been working so hard Going to London 2012, we deserve a great performance there.”
Filion has strong family roots. She calls grandfather, Guy Filion, who has maintained a series of scrapbooks of her career “everything to me. He’s my No.1 fan, and always calls me before I leave for competition... When I wanted to quit when I was younger, he was the one who encouraged me to stay with it, who told me I was good and shouldn’t quit...
“He’s the one who would drive me to practice when my parents couldn’t. He came to every competition when they were in Montreal since I started in 1996.
“He’s collected every article about me since I started, even when I was a gymnast before... There are eight huge books now about me and Meaghan. It’s amazing to see how my grandfather is so proud of what I do and so impressed.
“In my family, sports is very important. We all sit together and watch the Olympics and cheer on the Canadian athletes. It’s something that’s been going on since before I was born. They went to sports in 1976 in Montreal.”