Caeli McKay rolled into Japan with her knee on a scooter, pushing her way around the Olympics to keep weight off an ankle injured so badly she could not walk three weeks ago. On Tuesday, she left the Olympic diving pool in Tokyo clinging to the back of teammate Meaghan Benfeito, carried piggyback as the adrenalin drained away and the pain came shooting through.
In between, the Canadian pair dove their way to a fourth-place finish, missing the podium for the 10-metre synchronized event by a hair’s breadth after a disastrous penultimate dive. China’s Chen Yuxi and Zhang Jiaqi took gold, with teams from the United States and Mexico coming second and third. Benfeito and McKay finished 0.54 points short of the bronze medal score.
“I’m in shock, honestly,” said Benfeito, who won three bronzes in the past two Games. “I’ve never finished fourth at the Olympics. So I don’t know. Like, obviously, I’m upset at myself for missing that dive.”
But there was a sense of achievement merely in making it to Tokyo. “We’ve been through a lot,” McKay said. “I think we’ve had a lot more curveballs thrown at us than people know.”
In late January, Benfeito was home when fire ripped through the condo building in Mirabel, Que., where she lived with her partner, football player Alexandre Dupuis. She escaped with nothing but a coat and scarf. The flames consumed her possessions, including her three Olympic medals. (The Olympics created reproductions to replace what she lost.)
In the preceding years, Benfeito also struggled with the retirement of her former diving partner, Roseline Filion, a fellow athlete with whom she shared a close friendship. It was Benfeito and Filion who together won bronze in London and Rio de Janeiro.
Filion retired after the 2016 Olympics, and Benfeito has described a rocky adjustment to working with McKay, who moved from Calgary to Montreal, where the two trained together. McKay is 10 years younger.
As they prepared for Tokyo, however, the two women found their footing, winning silver at the Commonwealth Games in 2018, gold at the Pan American Games in 2019 and gold this year at the FINA World Cup, where the dominant Chinese team did not compete.
Then came the condo fire.
And then McKay’s ankle.
Before competing at the Olympics, McKay described the injury as a dry-land training accident that left her with a sprain.
On Tuesday, speaking in visible pain, she was more comprehensive. “I tore all the ligaments on the side of my foot,” she said. “I wouldn’t have ever told myself that I would be able to push through pain like this.”
Doctors told her that recovery would take eight to 10 weeks. That was three weeks ago. “I said, ‘Well, my flight to the Olympics is on the 17th, so we’re going to be doing rehab,’” she said.
Medical staff told her she should not walk without a boot on her foot. So McKay brought a scooter to Japan. “Like a push one,” she said. “I go on my knee and push myself.”
On Tuesday, the adrenalin of competition masked some of the pain. “But after every dive, I did get about a minute of shock of pain in my foot,” McKay said.
“After a minute it kind of went away and I was able to kind of regroup and try put it to the back of my mind.” But the pain came shooting back after each dive.
Still, the pair started off well, standing in second place after their first three dives. For the fourth and penultimate, they planned a back 3½ somersault tuck, which had been a source of trouble for Benfeito in recent months. Three days earlier, she thought “we probably would have finished last, because my trainings were going horribly and I was doubting myself,” she said.
She nonetheless struggled to explain what went wrong Tuesday, blaming adrenalin for pushing her to overrotate. McKay also missed.
“She went short and I went over,” Benfeito said.
Now 32, this may be Benfeito’s last Summer Games, although she said her mind is not yet fully made up on whether she will try again after missing the podium this year.
Even so, “I’m happy I’m here today. It’s still fourth,” she said, before walking away with McKay on her back. “With everything that was thrown at us, it’s still fourth. And we managed to battle it out until the end.”
Women winning medals for Canada
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