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Champions of fashion: These Olympians are as stylish as they are strong

Richmond Lam/The Globe and Mail


Despite their age difference, divers Jennifer Abel and Émilie Heymans, 20 and 30 respectively, are a tight-knit team: Although they compete individually, the Quebeckers also share an uncommon synergy, which they marshalled to win gold in the women's three-metre synchronized event at last month's Canada Cup.

"Jen and I bounce the same," explains Brussels-born Heymans, who won her first Olympic medal at the Sydney Games in 2000 (she has three so far) and is a second-generation Olympian (her mother was a member of Belgium's fencing teamin 1976). "That has made us comfortable with each other from the very beginning."

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If Heymans and Abel are mirror images of each other when they're vaulting themselves backward off a springboard, however, each follows her own trajectory whenit comes to personal style. "I like being different," says Montreal-born Abel, whose made her Olympic debut in Beijing four years ago, when she was 16 and one of the youngest-ever divers to compete for Canada at the Games. "I like shopping at one-of-a-kind boutiques in Old Montreal and wearing clothes that other girls don't. I want to stand out."

Indeed, that's hard to do when you're wearing the same Speedo bathing suit as your partner, but not impossible. "I dive with my earrings on – tiny diamond studs," Abel says, explaining how she personalizes her look.

On the other hand, Heymans, who aspires to become a fashion designer once her sports career is over, tends to make her splashes outside the pool, pairing the knee-length pencil skirts she favours with, say, a stand-out bracelet or distinctive pair ofshoes. "When you look good, you feel good," she enthuses. "You perform better."

– Deirdre Kelly

Jennifer Abel and Émilie Heymans will compete in the women's synchronized three-metrespringboard competition on July 29. Abel will also compete in the women's individualthree-metre springboard event on Aug. 3.


Modelling, as she proved during a recent photo shoot, comes naturally to Karine Sergerie. Maybe it's the same quick-footedness that resulted in the Olympic silver medalist becoming Canada's first female world champion in tae kwon do that allows her to pose with such ease.

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While Sergerie admits to a love of fashion (right now she's into the sophisticated edge characteristic of Burberry, one of her favourite labels),it was the 27-year-old Quebec native's tomboy nature as a kid – as well as family devotion – that drew her to athletics. After taking up karate at the age of 5, she gravitated toward tae kwon do because her brother, a role model, was into the sport.

"I just wanted to do everything he did," Sergerie recalls. "I loved to play with Barbie dolls, but I also loved biking in the mud and roughing it up in the pool. It was the best of both worlds and I just loved spending time with my brother."

London will see Sergerie competing in her second Olympics, which she is approaching with much greater confidence, having shed the nerves that came with performing at her first.

"I have grown so much as a person over these past four years," she says. "I think that allows me to see the Olympic Games differently from the last, which is even better."

Besides, she adds, "I need to enjoy it. It's not worth doing if I'm not living the moment to the fullest."

– Tiyana Grulovic

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Karine Sergerie will compete in the women's 67-kilogram tae kwon do event on Aug. 10.


Among other successes, Kelita Zupancic won the gold medal in judo at the Pan-Am Games two years ago, but making the Canadian Olympic team outshines them all: It is, she says, her proudest achievement to date.

"No matter the outcome [in London], I will have no regrets, even though that shiny gold medal is never far from my mind," says the 22-year-old native of Whitby, Ont., who trains under coach Nicolas Gill at the National Training Centre in Montreal. "I am going there knowing that I've done everything I possibly could to be my best."

On the judo mat, Zupancic wears a gi, the heavyweight, double-weave uniform traditional to the sport (hers is made by Japan-based Mizuno, purveyor of sports equipment and athletic wear for more than 100 years). When she isn't executing back flips, strangleholds or other grappling manoeuvres, however, she steers toward labels such as Lululemon (a favourite among workout and casual-wear brands) and BCBGMaxAzria (her go-to for dressier occasions).

"I always wear something pink and I love accessorizing," says the advocate of retail therapy, which she indulges in when she wants to relieve some of the stresses of competing.

"When I'm not working out, it's important to me to express the creative, girly side of my personality," Zupancic says. "People often don't believe me when when they first meet me and I tell them I'm a judoka. I then show them my arms, which speak for themselves."

– Deirdre Kelly

Kelita Zupancic will compete in the women's 70-kilogram judo event on Aug. 1.


"I was at a teetering point in early 2010," Karen Cockburn, the trampoline gymnast and one of Canada's most decorated athletes, says of the time she briefly considered retirement. Then she tuned in to the Vancouver Olympics on TV, prompting any anxiety she may have felt about being an older contender (most competitive trampolinists are in their 20s; Cockburn is 31) to subside.

Watching those Games, "I was glued to the TV and to seeing the entire country come alive with the magic of the Olympics: It sucked me back in," Cockburn recalls,adding: "The whole world comes together for this one sporting experience – it's so big, it's so special and you're representing your country on the world stage."

A veteran of three previous Games, Cockburn has a bronze and two silver Olympic medals. If she makes it to the podium again in London, she will become the first athlete in Canadian history to win a medal at four consecutive Games. "I'm not thinking about that, though," she says over the phone. "I'm just thinking about having a perfect performance. Nothing [exerts] as much pressure as the pressure you put on yourself."

Despite her rigorous training regime, Toronto-born Cockburn, who has been competing since the age of 11 and is married to Olympic-trampolinist-turned-chiropractor Mathieu Turgeon, still finds time to cultivate other passions. Among them are holistic nutrition and cooking, decorating her home and shopping. "I tend to gravitate toward clean, classic pieces," she says of her fashion choices. "I read a lot of fashion blogs and pick up on trends, but I spend my money on pieces that will last a long time."

For her Globe Style shoot, Cockburn happily stepped out of her comfort zone,swapping her beloved basics for trendier metallics. Mostly, though, she sports running shoes and sweats, the basics of the athlete. "I do love getting dressed up when I can," she says, "only because it's so rare."

– TiyanaGrulovic

Karen Cockburn will compete in the women's individual trampoline event on Aug. 4.

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