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COLUMNISTS

Fri, August 27, 2004

The Despatie difference


ATHENS -- Three days ago, Alexandre Despatie blew his third dive of the three-metre springboard competition and shocked even himself by fighting back to grab silver.

Last night, Blythe Hartley blew her fourth dive and it took her right out of the competition.

Such is the difference between the Canadian men's and women's diving teams here.

Hartley and teammate Emilie Heymans proved several times they were not able to come through when it mattered most.

Despatie lives for just such an opportunity.

"Alex thrives on the pressure, he thrives on the environment and (Heymans and Hartley) recognize they fear it a little bit more," said head coach Mitch Gellar.

"(Alex) looks forward to it. He eats it up. He's like a shark at feeding time in competition. (Heymans and Hartley) were just looking at that and saying, 'You know, can we have a little bit of that?' "

Hartley could have used some of it last night as she battled her way into fourth place, just 10 points out of the medals with two dives left in the three-metre platform competition.

But when she over-rotated on her fourth dive -- a reverse 21/2 somersault -- she splashed down into sixth, more than 30 points back.

"I panicked a little bit," said the 22-year-old Montreal resident, who finished with a strong dive to land fifth.

"I came in tonight not wanting to fall back but to go after things and I just came out a little too late (on that dive)."

It was a far better evening than Heymans had, as the platform specialist finished 10th to wrap up a Games that went downhill after she and Hartley opened Canada's medal count with a bronze in 10-metre synchro.

"I don't think she'll go home celebrating her results," said Gellar, pointing out the disappointment of Heyman's fourth place finish in the 10-metre platform event, in which she is the reigning world champion.

"The three-metre is certainly not her forte. The fourth place (Sunday) was a real disappointment. She had (a medal) in the bag but she missed her last dive."

Despatie's fate easily could have been sealed the same way on his last dive but the 19-year-old managed to jump from fourth to second after coming up with his best dive of the night.

It was one of Canada's few bright spots in these Games -- the type for which Gellar and all of Canada are hoping in the 10-metre platform competition, which starts today.

"We've been pretty solid (overall)," said Gellar.

"We got two medals and I was really hoping for three.

I hope Alex can pull it out and get us there."

Conversely, Heymans came in with tremendous expectations on her and will thus be cast as a disappointment. But don't tell her that.

"It was a really long, stressful week but I'm going to come back home happy about my Games," said Heymans, 22. "I'm not really disappointed.

I don't look at the medals. You have to look at performance."

Despatie, the world platform champion, will draw the eyes of a nation today when 32 others challenge him in the preliminaries. If it all comes down to Despatie's last dive in tomorrow's final, chances are it'll be a golden finish for Canada.


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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