Alexandre Despatie has been at the forefront of Canadian diving for so long, itís often hard to remember heís only 25.
He broke onto the international scene at the 1998 Commonwealth Games when he captured gold on the 10-metre platform as a 13-year-old and has since won a Canadian-record nine Commonwealth golds, two Olympic medals and is the only diver to have won the world title on all three boards (one-metre and three-metre in 2005, the 10-metre in 2003).
Yet unlike the water in the London Canada Games Aquatic Centre pool, his future in the sport beyond next yearís Summer Olympics, even entering what should be the prime years of his athletic life, is unclear.
ďIíve been diving for quite a long time now ó 20 years Iíve been in the sport,Ē the Laval, Que., native said Wednesday, the day before the Canadian winter national championships opened. ďItís funny. Iím only 25, but I feel like a veteran. Iíve been around so long and Iíve seen people come and go already in this sport. I love to dive still, itís still my great passion and Iím still in love with the sport.
ďBut after 2012 Iím going to have to sit down and see where I am, see where I want to go, see if Iím still satisfied with my career and if I want to keep going. Iíve never been someone that believes you can force retirement on someone. Iíll just see where I am and see if Iíve had enough.Ē
The same sentiment is voiced by another Canadian star, Emilie Heymans of St-Lambert, Que. The three-time Olympic medallist and the 2003 world champion on the 10-metre platform is 29 now. Sheís completing a degree in fashion merchandising in April at the University of Quebec-Montreal.
ďHopefully it will be my second passion after Iím done diving,Ē she said. ďIím pretty much done after the Olympics. I may keep going for another year after that, but not four more (to Rio in 2016).Ē
The winter nationals serve as the selection trials for the spring Grand Prix season and even someone with Despatieís or Heymansí credentials still have to compete, even if for slightly different reasons.
ďIím doing a new dive here,Ē Heymans said of an inward 2 1/2 pike with a degree of difficulty of 3.0.Ē
For Despatie, the nationals are still vital events.
ďIt doesnít matter if youíre an Olympic medallist or at your first nationals, these meets are important. For one, there are a lot of distractions ó itís a bit less formal, there is a lot more people and itís a much tighter environment, so itís good for me to work on staying in my bubble and focusing on my own performance.Ē
Diving Canada high performance director Scott Cranham said the stars have provided ďgreat role modelsĒ for the up-and-comers. ďTheyíve shown Canadian divers can reach the podium at the very highest levels.Ē