Does Despatie still have it?

Canada's springboard superstar looks poised and strong in his first competitive outing, but admits he's haunted by head injury

Toby Melville/Reuters

Alex Despatie wasn’t about to lie. Some nasty thoughts blew through his mind before his final dive in today’s three-metre synchro in London. His routine with partner Reuben Ross called for the dive which—as he says—”redecorated” his head. He was seized by a moment of deja vu as he strode toward the end of the board.

“I put that aside right away,” the double-silver medallist from Laval, Que. said afterward. “The only thing I could focus on was, ‘Go for it. I can’t hold back. I can’t go half-way.'”

They nailed it, posting their best score of a 6th-place outing, whose result must be understood in the context of the injury Despatie suffered June 13 while preparing for a Grand Prix event in Spain. While practising an inward 3 1/2 somersault with tuck, he smacked his head against the board, concussing himself and opening a gash that spanned his upper forehead and left him unable to train for three weeks.

Ross is a collateral victim here, having been forced to rehearse solo while Despatie languished in dry dock, staples and stitches forming a horror-movie smile across his hairline. Synchro divers typically like to practise 60-100 times together in advance of a meet; Ross and Despatie got in only 10 rehearsals after the injury. “Even though I could train all the dives by myself, there are slight differences in timing just to make our synchronicity spot on,” Ross explained. “I think we’d have had a little more confidence and done a harder list if we’d had a full time for preparation.”

Ross, a soft-spoken 26-year-old from Regina, was philosophical. “We were consistent,” he said. “But it was a really tough field out there.” But Despatie was visibly relieved to banish his fears and clear the way for Monday’s individual springboard, in which he remains a medal threat. “I really didn’t know what to expect, and not all of that has to do with the accident itself,” he told reporters. “It’s all the thinking about whether I trained enough, was I doing enough. But this is a big step forward. I feel much better now than I did three hours ago.”

Despatie is plainly aware of his status as Canada’s pre-eminent diver. The four-time Olympian offered up thanks to the countless Canadians who have approached him in London to remind him how lucky he is to be here. But in the same breath he spoke of the work left to do before takes to the board next week. For Despatie, merely being at the Games has never been quite enough.


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