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Canadian divers move in ever increasing circles

Alexandre Despatie of Laval, Que. took third place in men's 3 metre springboard at the FINA Visa Diving World Cup at Olympic Aquatic Centre in London, England, Wednesday, Feb. 22, 2012.


As Canadian divers get ready for the 2012 Olympic trials in May, the men face a tough challenge – their world has been spinning dizzily and faster since 2008.

"The women's dive list has stayed pretty much the same but men have increased their degree of difficulty," says Mitch Geller, chief technical officer of Diving Canada. In a move he compares with the proliferation of the quad jump in figure skating, male divers now tackle a front-facing four-and-a-half somersaults.

"In 2008, they were doing three and a half, now they've added another full somersault and it's a lot of risk," Geller said as the team prepared for the May 3-6 Canada Cup Grand Prix meet in Montreal. It's not necessarily more physically dangerous, says Geller, but the extra somersault has created a stylistic risk.

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The Canada Cup is one of the last chances for Canadian divers to accumulate diving points before the Olympic trials May 25-27.

"Keeping up with the pace of change is the challenge Alex [Alexandre Despatie]faces," Geller said. "It's not necessarily more dangerous, but there's a risk [in execution] A tandem [synchronized]four and a half can be great or it can be a disaster. When they miss those kinds of dives, they miss them big."

Despatie, of Laval, Que., stayed off the diving board for seven months. A serious knee injury kept him out of the worlds last fall. He couldn't compete until February.

Then, he qualified Canada for the Olympic three-metre dive by placing eighth at the official test event in London. It will be his fourth Olympics. Reuben Ross of Regina was 11th in London to get Canada another solo spot, and, as a synchro team, Despatie and Ross earned another spot for Canada.

Geller said Despatie, who is grooming himself to battle the Chinese, can execute the front four and half but still needs to nail it down on a regular basis if it is to become a regular element of his dive list for the Games.

The Canadian team philosophy is not to risk too much by over-reaching. "The Olympics is not the place where you roll the dice," Geller said. "We rely on statistics to tell us whether a diver can score consistently high with one dive or whether he should use another on which he can get top marks.

"We're not giving Alex a drop-dead date to get the dive. He had several years' experience doing the four and a half when he was on the 10-metre platform."

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Canada will officially announce its nominees for the Olympic team – the Canadian Olympic Committee must approve them – when the Olympic trials are over.

Geller says Canada also has Olympic medal potential in four diving events: women's three-metre individual (Jennifer Abel); women's three-metre synchro (Abel and Emilie Heymans); women's 10-metre synchro (Roseline Filion and Meghan Benfeito); and men's three-metre individual (Despatie).

Despatie, twice a silver-medal winner at the Olympics, is grooming himself to challenge Chinese dominant Chinese. Despatie has won three world championships.

The bright light and contender for the Canadian women's team is Jennifer Abel, 20, of Laval, who won bronze in the women's three-metre world championship.

"There is some fairly strong medal potential in four events," Geller said. "If we can get 50 per cent of those [i.e., two medals] we'll be quite satisfied. Three medals we'll be thrilled."

Abel, because of her strong international performances, won't have to compete in May's Canadian Olympic trials. Despatie will not be required to compete unless a teammate achieves a high standard during the Canada Cup to challenge him for the 3-metre Olympic spot. Ross and Despatie get a pass in the men's three-metre synchro. Benfeito and Filion, regular medalists in the world circuit in 10-metre synchro, have also received byes.

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Canada won two medals at the 2008 Olympics in China. Despatie earned silver medal in the men's three-metre event and Emilie Heymans won silver in the women's 10-metre. Hartley almost won another medal, finishing fourth in the women's three-metre.

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Sports reporter

James Christie written sports for the Globe on staff since 1974, covering almost all beats and interviewed the big names from Joe DiMaggio, to Muhammad Ali, to Jim Brown to Wayne Gretzky. Also covered the 10 worst years in Toronto Maple Leafs hockey history. More

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