Mon, September 23, 2013

Emilie Heymans, Jennifer Abel win Canada's first Olympic medal

Diving duo are truly sisters in arms

By STEVE SIMMONS, QMI Agency


Jennifer Abel (left) and Emilie Heymans celebrate their bronze medal win in 3-metre synchronized diving at the London Olympics on July 29, 2012. (Dave Abel/QMI Agency)


LONDON - Emilie Heymans stopped and all but panicked for a moment. She didn't know what to do with her arms. She had done these dives all her life, all year long, and here she was at her fourth Olympic Games, and this woman of nerve was melting down.

"I don't remember what I have to do with my arms when we walk," she said to her diving partner, Jennifer Abel.

And Abel took a deep breath and knew precisely what she needed to do."I said, well, it's back, front, back..."

A simple instruction, really. But not when your mind is going blank. A simple instruction that led to a podium finish.

"And then we did our second dive and it wasn't that good. After that, it was just, look, just try it and calm down ... We know what to do."

It's what partners do at a moment of sporting crisis. They get each other back together, back in synchronization. It's what Heymans has done for four Olympic Games at the times that mattered most. She got her act together. They got their act together. And Canada has its first medal of the 2012 Olympics because the kid, 20-year-old Abel of Montreal, knew what the old lady of the diving board, Heymans, 30, of Brossard, Que. needed at that exact moment in time at the Olympic Aquatics Centre.

"She knows that I know her and she knows that she knows what to tell me to not make me feel nervous and I know what to tell her to make her calm...I calm her down."

They calm each other down.

"We like the same things, hate the same things," said Abel.

And they loved raising their arms together, with big wide, smiles, these unlikely friends -- Heymans looking relieved and celebratory, which has never been her way -- with the first Canadian medal of the Games. They each get one.

And Canada now has one to call its own.

Now one of them makes history while other just begins her career. Before these Olympics began, Heymans was an athlete of a lifetime. The pragmatic Olympian. She shows up and wins something. Now she's taken a greater step -- alongside Marnie McBean and Kathleen Heddle -- as the most decorated Canadian women in Summer Olympic history. Four Olympic Games, four medals won for Heymans. No female diver has ever done that before. No Canadian athlete has gone to four Olympics and come back with a medal each time.

Three of them with three different synchronized partners. Like McBean, who needed Heddle in rowing, Heymans has needed Abel, and before her, Blythe Hartley and Anne Montminy in her synchronization. The more public Alexandre Despatie has gotten more publicity from the diving world: Heymans has the been the best in-the-moment Olympian the country has had in years at the Summer Games.

"It's the story of our team," said chef de mission, Mark Tewksbury, grinning like a proud papa after the third-place finish. He was so excited he tripped over himself ever so slightly. He was right in saying that Heymans was in her fourth Games, owning her fourth medal. But he did say Abel was in her first Games, and this was her first medal.

It was her first medal. But in her second Olympics.

"It's awesome," said Yihua Li, Heymans' coach. She coaches Heymans. Cesar Henderson coaches Abel. Twice a week, they take a break from their individuals athletes and their individual clubs in two sides of Montreal and come together for synchro practice. At first, Abel and Heymans didn't seem to fit. They had different rhythms, different styles. Heymans is a power diver. Abel is more a finesse diver. Heymans is larger, Abel more petite. "But these girls are very competitive. With each other and against each other.

"I'm so proud of Emilie. She works so hard. She always wants better. If she gets bronze, she wants a silver. If she gets silver, she wants a gold. I'm so happy, so relieved.

"With her, maybe the whole year in competition she screws up, but the one time you need here, when you really need her, she comes through."

There was no gold medal available Sunday except to the Chinese. They are in their own world in this sport. The silver and bronze came down to the Americans, Canadians and Italians. And after a bad second dive that sent Canada to fifth overall, Abel and Heymans moved up to fourth, then third with their fourth dive. They had a shot at silver with their final dive. But they had to match their excellent fourth dive and couldn't do so. Like Yogi Berra, Heymans said: "it's never over until the last dive."

"I'm really happy," said Abel, with flags being waved around her and members of Canada's Olympic team hugging in the background. "I don't feel (happy) but I know that I am," she said.

WOMEN'S 3-METRE SYNCHRONIZED DIVING

Gold: China - Wu Minxia and He Zi
Silver: USA - Kelci Bryant and Abby Johnson
Bronze: Canada - Emilie Heyman and Jennifer Abel