In diving, as in life, there’s the way you imagine things unfolding, then there’s reality.
Transpose that reality to a massive international stage, and even a battle-tested champion like Alexandre Despatie of Laval, Que., gets nervous.
As the double Olympic medalist walked the 16 feet to the end of the diving board in the synchronized pairs event on Wednesday, he felt a flutter.
Not because he and partner Reuben Ross were well back of a medal – they sat sixth at the time – nor because it was their last dive.
It was the first time in competition he was attempting the inward 3.5-somersault dive on which he nearly tore his scalp off in a practice session in Spain six weeks ago.
“I won’t lie, I didn’t want it to happen, but I had a little thought about what had happened as I was walking out to the end of the board,” the 27-year-old Despatie said. “I pushed it aside right away, what I couldn’t do was hold back, and I didn’t.”
In the event, the dive came off beautifully.
By then, it was too late to be good news to Ross, who dived gamely in what is likely his final Games appearance. The Regina native can take considerable pride in counting himself among the top six diving tandems on the planet, a distinguished achievement considering the minimal practice time with his injury-plagued teammate.
But the inward 3.5 – and Despatie’s performance overall – is excellent news from the perspective of his coach and former tower-diving partner, Arturo Miranda.
Next week, Despatie competes in the individual three-metre, where he has faint but tangible medal hopes.
“He did really good dives … that hopefully give him a little bit of confidence and it gives me confidence, he has the power, he has the height, he has everything to do a good job,” Miranda said. “He really showed me he wants to compete.”
Despatie said he stood up on the board at the beginning of the competition in search of putting together some good dives.
He may have found something more precious.
“I’ve been a little anxious, I didn’t necessarily know what to expect,” he said. “I think I rediscovered something during the competition. I just felt right. I felt right on the board, the way I felt inside, I felt good.”
There is no denying that Despatie has lingering doubts about his ability to perform at the level that the Chinese, Americans and Russians have exhibited. He has doubts about the reverse 3.5 somersaults, on which he has a recurring technical difficulty, and he won’t deploy the forward 4.5-somersault – a.k.a. The Quad – until the final of the individual competition.
But Despatie has succeeded under unlikely circumstances – as recently as four years ago, he collected his second silver medal against considerable odds – and he’s determined to put the work in over the next four practice days.
“It’s a big, big step, I think,” he said of the synchro competition.
Despatie is also a class act, and in the moments after the competition, he huddled with his partner with a simple message: “I’m sorry I wasn’t around more to train.”
Ross appreciated the gesture of magnanimity even as he argued it was unnecessary. “What else was he supposed to do,” Ross said, “he got injured.” Ross said this day will be remembered not for the disappointment of falling short, but for the thrill of competing at the highest level.
“We’re in the waiting room,” Ross said, “tensions are pretty high. Of course I was nervous, but I said to myself, ‘these could be my last six days, this is most likely my last Olympic Games, I’m just going to enjoy this.’ I’ll remember this feeling because it will be a long time before I feel it again. So when I marched out, I had a big smile on my face. So few people get an experience like this.”