Emilie Heymans is nervous, but this time it’s okay – really.
The 31-year-old diver from Saint-Lambert, Que., a three-time Olympic medalist and multiple world champion, has had her share of battles with nerves and stress. At the 2004 Olympics in Athens, she slid out of a podium position on her final dive in the 10-metre platform and tearfully proclaimed, “I choked.”
As she embarks on her fourth Olympics, she’s not calm, exactly, but nor is her febrile state a problem.
“I’ve learned over the years to not worry about my stress level, and not allow it to be a distraction,” Heymans said.
Though she’s had a sparkling international career and is vying to become the first Canadian to win medals in four consecutive Summer Olympics, there has often been a sense there could have been more.
That’s terribly unfair, of course, but this is big-time sports and when one wins world title after world title, there are expectations.
Heymans is in a good place, though, and is more than content to leave such considerations to the pundits.
“I’m quite happy with how my career has gone, so whatever happens in the next two weeks, I’m completely satisfied with what I’ve accomplished to this point,” said Heymans, who is planning her postathletic career and recently came out with a line of swimsuits.
She will have her first shot at a podium on Sunday, the second day of the Games, when she competes in the three-metre springboard synchro event with 20-year-old partner Jennifer Abel, an explosive diver who will also contend for an individual springboard medal.
The two won silver at the most recent world championships, and it’s an event the veteran diver, who is the doyenne of the Canadian diving squad, knows intimately.
Heymans has two medals in synchro – her third was a 10-metre tower silver in Beijing – and in 2004, she and partner Blythe Hartley, who is in London as a television commentator, won Canada’s first medal of the Athens Games.
Though these are her fourth Olympics, it’s not something that gets old.
“I don’t think you can ever get used to the Olympics exactly … it’s always exciting, it’s always different and it’s the biggest competition,” Heymans said. “The fact that we came here, then had a training camp, then came back here, it feels almost like you’re coming home. You can feel it, there’s a lot more people in the pool, in the athletes’ village, it’s a good kind of energy.”
Part of Heymans’s strategy for coping with the pressure of Olympic meets is to spend only as much time thinking about the competition as is necessary.
“I’m trying to have as much fun as I can. I want to concentrate hard when I’m on the pool deck, I want to have maximum focus, but I’ve learned there’s no point in trying to keep that level of concentration all the time, it just saps all your energy. It’s good to get out.”
To that end, she went for a long walk with teammate – and Olympic Village roommate – Roseline Filion. The two strolled along the Thames from Tower Bridge to Big Ben, a trek of about five kilometres.
It was, as Filion put it laughingly, “a good, healthy walk.”
By this point, it’s a case of whatever works, and Heymans is keen to conclude her Olympic career on a high.
“This is so exciting,” she said. “We were here for the test event in February, so we know exactly how the competition is going to unfold. … We’re ready to compete.”
After a beat she added: “And I think we’re mostly anxious to be done.”
The line was delivered with laughter dancing in Heymans’s piercing blue eyes.