He’s been an Olympian since before he was old enough to drive, but booking his ticket for his fourth Games required a roundabout route.
Put in the unusual – for him – position of needing a result at the final World Cup event of the season to qualify for the three-metre springboard at the Olympics in London this summer, 26-year-old diver Alexandre Despatie admitted to feeling jitters as he stood on the board at London’s sparkling new Aquatics Centre.
After a mistimed fourth dive briefly left him in 12th place – he needed to finish in the top 18 in the preliminary round to gain an Olympic berth – Despatie rallied to grab eighth. (Teammate Reuben Ross of Regina placed 11th to secure a second spot for Canada).
Finishing so far off the podium has likely seldom felt so sweet for a man who won his first major international competition at 13 and made his Games debut at 15.
Despatie developed knee problems in 2011 that wiped out his hopes of gaining early entry to the 2012 Games, and only started diving intensively again four weeks ago.
“I want to make that comeback,” he told a conference call from London, where the world’s elite are getting their first look at the Olympic pool this week. “I want to hopefully come back stronger than I’ve ever been. I’m in great physical shape right now and now I need to put more diving inside of me.”
It’s been a gruelling road back for Despatie, who until January was able to do little more than drop off the end of the board like a beginner.
But it’s not like he hasn’t had to suffer through injuries in an Olympic year – a few months prior to the 2008 Games in Beijing, he broke his foot and nevertheless finished on the podium.
The Laval, Que., native is a two-time Olympic silver medalist – and a three-time world champion – and hopes to be fit enough to take one more run at breaking China’s seeming monopoly on gold medals.
“I’m going to show up and have the tools to succeed and have the tools to be at my best and give myself the chance to be a contender,” he said. “From there – whatever happens, happens. Diving is one of those sports where anything can happen and competition sometimes has mysterious ways of unfolding.”
Despatie and Ross also qualified for the Games in the synchronized three-metre event on Monday.
Though the final Olympic team selection will be announced in the spring, Ross and Despatie should compete in both events given their standing in the national rankings.
In the women’s 10-metre individual event on Tuesday, Quebec-based diver Roseline Filion posted a fifth-place finish in the semi-final session.
Montreal diver Meaghan Benfeito – the two are partners in the 10-metre synchro event – finished 13th in the preliminaries and didn’t advance to the final.
Both qualified for the Olympics at the world championships in Shanghai last year.