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DIVING

Sun, August 29, 2004
No silver lining for Despatie
Yet another Canadian opportunity lost
By -- Toronto Sun

ANOTHER NOTCH on the Canadian medal chart of expectations ended with the least likely of fourth-place finishes at the Olympic Games. Alexandre Despatie, standing poolside, still in shock, still not sure what to say, thought he was different.

He was supposed to be different. That's what everyone who knew anything about diving thought. He had winner written all over him.

He would win a gold medal, maybe two here at these Olympics. He wasn't like those other Canadian athletes -- the ones who somehow get lost on their way to the podium.

But stunningly now, his name is among them: Right there with Perdita Felicien and Emilie Heymans and the men's eight rowing crew.

The great Canadian oxymoron: Medal contender.

None of the disappointments may be athletically related to the other, and all of the circumstances are different, but taken in full context they are a somehow a loud indictment of Canadian sport.


"It's bad," said Despatie, the child prodigy diver who is impossible to dislike. "It's bad," he repeated.

He won a silver medal in the three-metre springboard event but never really challenged in the final of platform diving last night. Predictably on the Canadian scale of woe, Despatie, like Heymans, like Felicien, like the eights, was the defending world champion in this event.

He began the night in first place but never got there again. After his first dive, he dropped to second place. He was never that high in the standings again. His last three dives -- two of them just ordinary -- never saw him move from fourth place.

Three for six may make you a star in baseball but it will get you nowhere in Olympic diving.

The dive that took Despatie out of a very difficult competition was a back three-and-a-half somersault in the pike position. Following a familiar pattern of Canadians at the Games, that is normally a dive he makes. His first hurdle on the track.

He missed.

The score of 71.28 was the lowest of the night among the divers who challenged.

"That changed the competition," said Michel Larouche, his coach. "That was it. He makes that dive, it puts the pressure on everyone."

Diving is not an easy Olympic medal. The Chinese men, Hu Jia and Liang Tian, are exceptionally smooth and gifted athletes. Matt Helm of Australia is of similar calibre. There were four divers for three places on the podium, and they earned their medals -- Despatie lost his opportunity.

Jia won gold, Helm won silver, Tian won bronze, Despatie won potato.

Now the wait is four years to do this again. Four long years, even for a 19-year-old.

"I'll remember this for a long time, that's for sure," he said, trying to find the right words. He was silver in his first Olympic event here, expected nothing less than that for himself last night.

"It's just unfortunate. I wasn't able to step up and do what I wanted to do, what everybody thought I could do."

At home, in the Montreal area, he was the local hero going to the Olympics. Everyone knew him. Everywhere he went, he was patted on the back, wished good luck, told to bring home a medal.

He is bringing home a medal.

Not the number of medals he wanted and certainly not the colour.

Now going home won't be easy. The reminders will be everywhere. This was no coming out party. "It's going to be hard to see the faces, to see what people have to say," Despatie said. "It didn't go as I wanted, but there will be a next time."

The next time will be in China, four years from now. With Chinese divers among the best in the world. Home pool advantage.

By then, he may not be anyone's pick for gold.

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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