SPORTS

Despatie, Ross 6th in three-metre synchronized diving at London Olympics

08/01/2012 11:01 EDT | Updated 10/01/2012 05:12 EDT
LONDON - For a brief moment when he was walking toward the end of the board, Alexandre Despatie thought about the accident that "redecorated" his head.

But the star Canadian diver quickly brushed aside the frightening image — and that mammoth feat in itself had Despatie breathing a huge sigh of relief Wednesday.

Despatie and partner Reuben Ross finished sixth in the three-metre synchronized event at the London Olympics, six weeks after Despatie's diving accident that left him with a long scar along his hairline and his Games entirely in doubt.

"I'm going to be very honest, I really didn't know what to expect," Despatie said. "Obviously all the thinking: did I train enough? Am I doing enough? They're thoughts I try to keep out of my head that are very hard to keep out of my head.

"It's a big step forward, I feel much better now than I did three hours ago."

The 27-year-old Despatie, a three-time world champion and two-time Olympic silver medallist, hopes to climb the Olympic podium one more time in his illustrious career when he competes in the three-metre individual event on Monday.

Qin Kai and Luo Yutong captured China's fourth diving gold medal of the Games, scoring 477.00 points. Russians Ilya Zaharov and Evgeny Kuznetsov won the silver, while Americans Kristian Ipsen and Troy Dumais took the bronze.

Despatie of Laval, Que., and Ross, from Regina, bronze medallists at the world championships in 2009 and at the World Cup in London earlier this year, scored 421.83.

Despatie's fourth Olympics also marks his first competition since suffering a concussion when he smashed his forehead on the springboard at a practice in Madrid. The accident left a 10-centimetre gash along his hairline that required surgery to repair, and sidelined him from training for three weeks.

He has no feeling on the top of his head due to nerve damage and tapped himself on the top of his head vigorously a few times with a finger to show journalists. Doctors aren't sure whether he will regain any sensation.

He also has the permanent deep-red scar that's visible along his hairline.

"I'll be reminded every single day, unless I stop looking at myself," he said with a laugh.

Despatie hit the board on an inward three-and-a-half somersault, a dive he'd executed thousands of times before — and the Canadians' sixth and final dive Wednesday.

"I'm not going to lie, I had a thought about what happened just a bit. . . quick thought, put that aside right away," Despatie said. "The only thing I had to focus on for that dive was go for it, can't hold back, cannot go halfway and I didn't.

"That's another big step in my process, to have done it in my meet and now I know everything is fine. I know it for a fact."

This wasn't the first time Despatie has faced adversity in the weeks leading up to the Olympics. The Canadian, who might just be the most enduring athlete in diving, fractured his foot six months before the 2008 Beijing Games, but went on to win silver in the three-metre individual event.

"He's really been a champ about it," Ross said of Despatie's latest setback. "That's what makes him such a great athlete, suffers an accident like that and gets right back, as soon as he was ready to start training again he was back there doing the dives."

But the Canadians clearly were suffering from their lack of training time together. Despatie was off the board for three weeks and didn't perform the dreaded dive again until two weeks ago in Rome.

The divers were already short on time together after Despatie missed most of 2011 with bursitis and tendinitis in his left knee.

Since Despatie's accident, Ross estimates the two had maybe 10 practices together. They started back slowly, doing simple backward and forward jumps.

"When I found out it happened, I just said 'OK, I've got to make sure I'm ready," Ross said. "But it's all about feeling your partner and getting the rhythm together and that comes from repetition."

The two also scratched one of their most difficult dives — a reverse three-and-a-half — from their lineup in London, because they felt they weren't prepared enough. That cost the Canadians in degree of difficulty marks.

The two sat third after the opening dive at the Aquatic Centre at Olympic Park, a picturesque venue with its grey ceiling that resembles a stingray. But they fell to sixth after the second dive and then eighth after the third dive before sealing sixth spot with their last two dives.

"They were very tense, the confidence of diving together for a long time was not there," said coach Arturo Miranda.

The coach was the one who hauled a semi-conscious Despatie out of the pool in Madrid. He told him to approach that dive as if he'd never done it before.

"I said 'Listen, you know how to do perfect technique, you have to do it every time like it's your first time, you can't relax, you can't unfocus," Miranda said. "I'm very happy, Alex's dives were really good."

The 26-year-old Ross, who had 39 family members cheering him on, soaked up the Olympic atmosphere Wednesday.

"I was in the room thinking these could be my last six dives if I decide not to dive next year," Ross said. "Obviously I was nervous but I was thinking I've just got to enjoy this, I may never get this experience again. It's really such a rush, it's hard to describe."

Canada has two diving medals in London. Emilie Heymans and Jennifer Abel won bronze in the three-metre event, while Roseline Filion and Meaghan Benfeito claimed bronze in the 10-metre synchronized event.

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