"I had a lot of road blocks on the way and I pushed myself to the limit to get there," said the 27-year-old from Laval, Que., who suffered a serious training accident in June that hampered his preparation for the Games. "It was the most taxing year of my life and just to be here was something special to me.
"I was lucky to be here in the first place."
Despatie, a four-time Olympian, suffered a huge gash on his forehead an a concussion after the incident in Madrid.
He was maintaining himself around eighth place most of the final but completely missed his last dive to drop to 11th overall with 413.35 points.
"I didn't want to hold anything back tonight," said Despatie, a two-time Olympic medallist in the event. "Take away the last dive and it was solid performance for me.
"In general I have to be proud of myself and what I accomplished. I was quite relaxed and I really wanted to enjoy this moment."
Separated by a mere 1.25 points, the gold medal all came down to the last dive between Qin Kai and Ilya Zakharov.
Owning the lead and diving one spot ahead of Zakharov, Qin scored 89.10 points for a reverse 2 1/2 somersault with 1 1/2 twists pike. Zakharov hit a much tougher dive, a forward 4 1/2 somersault tuck, for 104.50 points, and pumped his left arm as he swam toward the edge of the pool.
The Russian had clinched the gold medal, spoiling China's bid to sweep all eight diving events in London.
"I'm so pleased that I have managed to take away at least one medal from China," Zakharov said through a translator. "After the last dive when I came up to the surface and I heard the noise that's when the happiness swept over me."
He totalled 555.90 points in the six-round final Tuesday night. It was Russia's first diving gold since 2000, when the country won the men's 10-meter platform synchro in Sydney.
"He always tries very difficult dives," Qin said. "This time he pulled them off."
Zakharov ended a streak of his own. The 21-year-old diver from St. Petersburg was runner-up in three-metre synchro in London, and in both three-meter synchro and individual at last year's world championships. Zakharov finished second in three times on individual 3-metre during this year's World Series events.
Qin settled for silver at 541.75. He Chong, the defending champion and Qin's teammate, earned the bronze at 524.15 in front of a crowd that included Sammy Lee, the first man to win consecutive golds in platform. The 92-year-old American won his first title in London in 1948 and repeated in 1952.
"I did pretty well, even though I didn't expect to get the silver," Qin said. "The Russian has a really high level of difficulty and he did extremely well."
The Chinese swept the four synchronized events and then won the women's three-metre for their fifth gold. But Zakharov had signalled that he was a threat to their domination, having led after the preliminaries and taking second in the semifinals earlier Tuesday.
For a while, it was a three-man race between Zakharov, Yahel Castillo of Mexico and Qin. But Castillo gave up the lead for good in the fifth round and eventually faded to sixth.
Zakharov outscored Qin and He in the fifth round. He totalled 99.45 for a forward 2 1/2 somersault with three twists pike — worth a 3.9 degree of difficulty. He did the same dive for 97.50 in the last round, but the toughest dive on Qin's list was worth a maximum of 3.8.
"My trump card were my last two dives," Zakharov said.
The Russian lost to Qin and his partner Luo Yutong in three-metre synchro.
"I understood that the Chinese are reachable during my synchronized three-metre springboard dive," he said. "The last dive (Tuesday) was most difficult for me because during the previous competition a mistake at that stage cost me a medal."
Knowing the gold had slipped away, Qin climbed out of the pool and walked over to the wall. He leaned against it and began crying while getting a hug from a woman with China's team.
"My coach said I did pretty well and my teammates were comforting me," he said.
Qin managed a smile on the medals podium, while He smirked slightly after the bronze was hung around his neck.
"It is not good but this is normal because there always has to be a winner and a loser," He said. "You never want to lose in the Olympics. It was a pity that I did."
Zakharov grinned and waved at his family wearing white "Ilya" T-shirts in the stands.
China won 7 of 8 gold medals four years ago in Beijing, losing only the men's 10-meter. The Chinese won all eight golds at last year's world championships in Shanghai.
"Whether they sweep or not, that's not what the Olympics is all about," said American Troy Dumais, who was fifth. "It's enjoying the love to do what you do. They make it a job, I make it a hobby. I'm not going to retire off of diving, it's possible that they can."
Dumais, who was third through the first two rounds, had his best showing in an individual event in four Olympics. He won a bronze medal on three-metre synchro in London.
"I put everything on the line, I enjoyed the moment and that's all you can ask for," he said. "My fourth and fifth dive I know I can do better than that. But that doesn't matter. What matters is I did six consistent dives. I was in the ballgame. I just came up a little short."
Chris Mears of Britain, who was ninth, was the only other diver to score more than 100 points in the final. He totalled a career-best 100.70 for his last dive, the first time a British diver topped triple-digits on the springboard. The home crowd broke into raucous cheers, with Mears waving and signalling thumbs-up while smiling broadly.
"A brilliant way to end," he said. "I really went for it on the start, gave myself the opportunity on the end and managed to bang a little finish on it. I'm pretty impressed with that."
Mears nearly died in 2009, when he ruptured his spleen during training and was given a five per cent chance of surviving surgery to remove it. He then had a seizure and spent three days in a coma.
"From what I've come from to be here, stood in front of a home crowd as well, is just a bit phenomenal," he said.
— With files from The Associated Press