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COLUMNISTS

Tue, August 17, 2004

Plunging to glory


ATHENS -- Up until the very last dive of the night they had no clue where they sat in the standings and no idea how close they were to every Canadian's heart.

Desperate to change up a mind-set that landed Emilie Heymans and Blythe Hartley a disappointing seventh two nights earlier, their nervous giggles on the 10-metre platform soon became ear-to-ear smiles on the podium as they claimed Canada's first medal of the Athens Games.

"Throughout the (competition) we had no idea where we were, but we knew we were diving well," said Hartley, 22, proudly wearing her synchronized diving bronze medal.

"We were laughing during the event and having a lot of fun, which was a lot different than two days ago when we didn't do well and didn't have any fun.

After the other night I was scared, I'll be honest. So we asked 'what are we going to do different?' (Yesterday) we enjoyed the moment."

So did millions of Canadians yesterday as word spread quickly that the so-called "medal drought" that preoccupied some eager types had ended.

"It's going to give them and the Canadian team in general more confidence because we've been hearing, 'two days and no medals' and it became a little bit negative," coach Michel Larouche said.

Hartley, born in Edmonton and raised in North Vancouver, finished high school in Calgary and attended USC in Los Angeles before deciding last summer to move to Montreal to dive with the defending world 10-metre champion, Heymans. Calling it the toughest year of her life, it was the friendship she formed with her new partner that inspired her to fight through growing pains in an event she was rarely comfortable in.

"I'm definitely the weaker link and I couldn't have done this year without Emilie," Hartley said. "That's what makes this so special is that we're such good friends and we can share this together."

Ranked second after their first of five dives, the two followed through on plans to take a radically different approach than two nights earlier.

"We weren't really more relaxed, we were just more enjoying everything," said Montreal's Heymans, 22, who was Canada's youngest medallist in Sydney, winning 10-metre silver alongside Anne Montminy.

At one point Hartley said the two almost cracked up while in the ready position.

"It was noisy and we didn't hear the judges signal and I thought, 'people are looking at us like we should be going,' " Hartley said.

"I was looking around and the ref nodded and I said, 'I think they blew the whistle, we should go.' Sometimes you can take that and freak out but we said that's funny and kind of went ahead."

Although the Russian pair of Natalia Goncharova and Yulia Koltunova slipped past them after their fourth attempt, the Canadians ranked no lower than third in any of their dives to stave off the Mexicans. The Chinese tandem of Lishi Lao and Ting Li won gold easily.

"The fact that people are celebrating with our performance is just an amazing feeling to know that Canadians are really proud -- I'm so honoured," said Hartley, whose family cried in the stands.

"I never thought I would ever win an Olympic medal so I have no idea what to do with it."

For now she'll stash it away while they prepare individually for the three-metre springboard prelims next week and Heymans focuses on Friday's 10-metre event.

"Before our final dive I told Emilie, 'I'm so stressed out I don't know what to do,' " Hartley said.

"She just laughed at me."

Funny, the rest of Canada found the win every bit as entertaining.


Does Canada's low-medal haul in Athens bother you?
Yes, it depresses me
No, it's just sports
I'm disappointed, but not worried
We'll get 'em in Turin
Don't care

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