He walks onto the deck at the Olympic pool in Montreal like he owns the place.
"Here I am," says a beaming Alexandre Despatie. "Right on time."
The two-time Olympic silver medallist is wearing a T-shirt and lime green pants. He's sporting trendy, checkered sneakers called Vans. Despatie isn't your average high-performance athlete. In these parts, he's a star.
"Sometimes training is a little wild," says Arturo Miranda, Despatie's coach and a former teammate. "Kids are all over the place and wanting his autograph or their picture taken with him.
"It can be a bit of a circus."
Such is the life of Canada's most celebrated aquatic athlete of the modern age.
Despatie burst onto the scene at the 1998 Commonwealth Games in Malaysia. As a 13-year-old, he won the gold medal on the 10-metre platform and has never looked back.
Now 26, he's on the cusp of his fourth Olympics in London this summer. In addition to his two silver medals, won in Athens 2004 and Beijing in 2008, Despatie has claimed a world title in each of diving's three individual disciplines and is always a threat in the synchronized event.
This is not to mention the fact that he's amassed 46 national titles -- and counting. Despatie has dominated Canadian diving for a generation.
"There`s no great secret to it," he shrugged. "It's meant a lot of hard work.
"But I never, ever wanted to stop getting better."
Still, he's gone well beyond a desire to improve over the course of his remarkable career. Despatie has delivered the goods in spite of major injuries and, at times, a lack of motivation. At the Olympics in Beijing, he fought his way back from a broken foot to win an improbable silver medal against the vaunted
Chinese divers who were revelling in home waters. Most recently, he'd been out of competition for the better part of a year because of a major ligament problem with his knee. But he bounced back to handily qualify for the upcoming London Games at the test event held at the Olympic venue with a surprise performance in a do-or-die situation.
"I had to start from scratch to learn to walk properly again and to dive properly again," Despatie reflected as he prepared for the Grand Prix Canada Cup at home in Montreal.
"But it taught me something. And so, I'll go to my fourth Olympics with the enthusiasm of a boy but with the experience of a man."
In many respects, Despatie leads the charmed life of the superstar in this sports loving province. He is often referred to as "Un enfant Cherie des Quebecois," ie. "a beloved child of the Quebec people."
In Quebec, Despatie can do little wrong.
"It's incomparable," he marvelled. "Since I was very young, they have loved and supported me through good times and not so good times.
"No matter what happens, they are behind me. To me, that's priceless."
And he has been mindful of that devotion. Despatie has matured into an engaging, enthusiastic, role model who is eager to play the part of diving's poster boy. He's a perfectly bilingual, articulate performer who, above all, loves to live the Olympic life.
"He's earned his star status," Miranda said. "But he's a competitor.
"He doesn't show up just to participate. He always comes to win."
Put it all together -- the two Olympic medals, a pending fourth appearance at the Games, a penchant for the comeback, exalted status amongst the people -- and you might have a strong contender for Canada's flag bearer come the Olympics in London. When asked how he'd feel about that proposition, should it occur, Despatie doesn't hesitate.
"At this point in my career, I want to be a team player and it would be a tremendous honour to lead our team," he admitted. "I would eagerly accept."
That's the thing that strikes you immediately about Canada's most decorated male diver of all time: Alexandre Despatie is unafraid to be great.
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