Forty-eight hours before the finals of the 10-metre synchro event with his partner Nathan Zsombor-Murray, Vincent Riendeau worried that his diving career would end with a forfeiture.
The 24-year-old injured himself in training on Thursday and his back pain was so severe that all options were on the table.
“Yes, there was a doubt because there wasn’t a lot of time left,” Riendeau said. So much, in fact, that the team considered whether Zsombor-Murray could dive instead with Saskatchewan’s Ryan Wiens, who is qualified for the individual event.
The veteran from the Montreal suburb of Pointe-Claire has seen challenges before, and managed to recover in time to compete.
“We were in a state of uncertainly for two days,” Riendeau said. “But thanks to my therapists and … also to my last 10 years of back problems, I knew what to do,” he said, following his team’s fifth-place finish.
Tom Daley and Matty Lee of Britain narrowly edged out China to win the 10-metre synchronized diving on Monday, upsetting favored China and preventing the diving powerhouse from any chance of a golden sweep.
Daley and Lee totaled 471.81 points in the final, edging the Chinese duo of Cao Yuan and Chen Aisen by 1.23 points. Cao and Chen settled for silver with 470.58.
Alexsandr Bondar and Viktor Minibaev of Russia took bronze with 439.92 points.
For his swan song, Riendeau savoured the chance to compete at his second Olympics, after finishing 14th individually in 2016.
“It wasn’t a perfect performance, but we look at our score and it’s one of our very good ones,” Riendeau said. “We’re coming out with a smile on our face.”
“It was a difficult summer, with a lot of obstacles, but we surmounted them and finished strong,” added Zsombor-Murray, who is 18.
At the last World Cup in May, the duo brought home the bronze medal with a total of 393.81 points. On Monday, they got 405.00.
While the pair have only been diving together for two years, they appear to have a strong bond.
“When I was little, Vincent was my idol,” Zsombor-Murray said. “When I watched him dive at the Pointe-Claire club, I wanted to do synchro with him. This association allowed me to improve as a diver and a person. I’ve learned so much from Vincent.”
His teammate was quick to return the compliment.
“Both of us have learned from one another,” Riendeau said.
“It’s true that I’m older and have more experience. But in competition, I see that he has nerves of steel. For me, it helped me to dive beside him. It’s been an honour to share the last two years in synchro and to dive together at the Olympics.”
When asked if he felt a pang in realizing he was diving competitively for the last time, Riendeau said he “wasn’t that emotional.”
“I’ve thought about it these last weeks, figuring out what it means to me,” he said. Riendeau’s girlfriend is female diver Caeli McKay, the partner of Meaghan Benfeito in the ladies 10-metres synchro, and he plans to stay close to the sport.
“So I know the diving is going to continue to be a part of my life. I’m looking forward to the future, I think I’ll get involved in the clubs,” he said.
Riendeau plans to concentrate on his university studies in electrical engineering at Polytechnique Montreal.
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