Fri, September 20, 2013

Alexandre Despatie regaining confidence at Olympics

By ROB LONGLEY, QMI Agency


Canada's Alexandre Despatie (right) and Reuben Ross perform a dive during the men's synchronised 3-metre springboard final at the London 2012 Olympic Games. August 1, 2012. (TOBY MELVILLE/Reuters)


LONDON - The scar on the top of Alex Despatie’s head — a wide, bright pink reminder of a diver’s worst nightmare come true — is healing.

The wounds on the inside, apparently, are beginning to repair as well.

The French Canadian diving sensation dove back into the Olympic pool here on Wednesday just six weeks after cracking his head open on the end of the diving board during a training session in Madrid. The resulting concussion and surgery to close the wound has left the 27-year-old with a numbness in his head and an uncertainty about his future.

Part of that doubt was erased when he returned to competition, teaming with patner Reuben Ross to finish sixth in the men’s synchronised three-metre springboard final. It was an event in which the Canadians were never expected to be in medal contention — those will come for two-time Olympic silver medallist Despatie when he gets to individual events next week.

But that first step, however modest, was a huge one for one of Canada’s best-known Olympians here, a fact he acknowledged with relief after the Chinese had claimed yet another diving gold.

“I’m going to be very honest, I didn’t know what to expect,” Despatie said after what was effectively a competitive exhale for the rest of his competition here. “I felt more control than I have been in training and that’s a big step forward in what is coming. There is a lot of work to be done for me over the next few days.

“It’s a big step forward. I feel much better now than I did three hours ago.”

The clincher for Despatie was the sixth and final dive, the exact one he was attempting when the accident took place. Athletes talk all the time about their need for mental toughness and ability to block out negative thought but Despatie was frank in admitting that was next to impossible for him with that big dive.

“I’m not going to lie, I had a thought about what happened when I walked to the end of the board,” said Despatie, who embraced his partner after they exited the pool. “It was a quick thought. I put that aside right away.”

Safe to say there wasn’t a member of the Canadian team that didn’t exhale after that dive as Despatie once again attempts to recover from a pre-Olympics injury. Four months prior to the 2008 Games in Beijing in which he won a silver medal in the three-metre individual competition, he had a broken foot that hampered his training.

Since this latest accident, Despatie has been trying to fast-track his recovery so he can compete near his best. The challenge has shown the depth of the Laval, Que., native’s competitiveness.

“He’s really been a champ about it and that’s what makes him such a great athlete,” Ross said. “He can suffer an accident like that and be able to get right back.

“(Nailing the dive that injured him) was great. It gives him a lot of confidence going into the individual events.”

There is a lot of work ahead of him as well, as Despatie is still recovering physically while desperately trying to make up for lost training time.

“The top of my head is numb now with the nerve damage and stuff,” Despatie said. “The scar is one and off. Sometimes it’s sensitive, some times it’s better but I’m not thinking much about it. My mind is on other things right now.”

rob.longley@sunmedia.ca

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