The unsinkable Alexandre Despatie | CBC Sports CBC Sports - Sochi 2014

Amateur sportsThe unsinkable Alexandre Despatie

Posted: Wednesday, June 13, 2012 | 11:24 AM

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Alexandre Despatie of Laval, Que., is considered a medal contender in men's springboard at the upcoming London Olympics. (Matt King/Getty Images) Alexandre Despatie of Laval, Que., is considered a medal contender in men's springboard at the upcoming London Olympics. (Matt King/Getty Images)

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He is the king of comebacks and the latest twist in diver Alexandre Despatie's road to London may not sink his Olympic aspirations.

He is the king of comebacks and the latest twist in diver Alexandre Despatie's road to London may not sink his Olympic aspirations.

Make no mistake, hitting the board with his head and sustaining a 10-centimetre gash just above the hairline is serious business. It's compounded by the loss of training and competition time that he'll face at a critical juncture before the London Olympics. The incident in Madrid means Despatie will be out of that major international test in Spain and the succeeding event in Italy.

It's just what he doesn't need in a season where he's been able to fuel the competitive fires so infrequently.  

But consider this. Despatie has navigated rough waters several times in his career and has been able weather the storm in each case.

Prior to the Beijing Games in 2008, he battled back from a broken bone in his foot and, in spite of those who wrote off his chances, ended up pushing the heavily favoured Chinese athletes and winning a silver medal, the second of his Olympic career.

In advance of the 2010 Commonwealth Games in New Delhi, Despatie was struggling with motivational issues and got out of good physical shape. He recommitted himself and won three gold medals in India.

Then, a serious difficulty with a ligament in his knee kept Despatie on the deck and out of competition for the better part of a year. He connected with B2ten strength and conditioning coach Scott Livingston, the former trainer of the Montreal Canadiens, in order to get back in tip-top shape.

Despatie returned to the pool at the Olympic test event in London in February and dramatically qualified for the Games by finishing on the podium in a very tough field. It seems he can never be counted out of the picture.

There's no doubt that this latest injury casts everything in doubt once again for the most decorated male diver in Canadian history. But Diving Canada high performance director Mitch Geller is, on the surface, optimistic.

"The major issue here will be dressing the wound," Geller said. "There appears to be nothing in this injury that affects his strength or his ability to perform physically. 

"There appears to be no concussion and there is no damage to the limbs or to his muscles. The biggest question may be his confidence in executing the dive."

If Despatie's resolve is a question mark, it shouldn't be.

Not long after coming out of the general anaesthetic following surgery in Madrid, he was on Twitter to reassure the faithful back home. He is, by the way, a superstar in his home province of Quebec, where he has an enormous and loyal following.

"Thanks so much for the support everyone! The surgery went well and I will keep you guys an update soon! #olympicdreamstillalive," Despatie tweeted @ADespatie.

There's also a little history to consider in this matter.

At the 1988 Olympics in Seoul, South Korea, the defending champion in the three-metre springboard event was Greg Louganis of the United States. On the ninth of his dives in the preliminary competition, Louganis famously hit the board with his head on the descent. He bled profusely into the water and the gash was subsequently closed with temporary sutures.

Within 45 minutes, Louganis returned to complete the rest of his dives in the qualifying competition. He then went to the hospital to have stitches and, days later, returned to win Olympic gold again -- the first diver in history to do it in that event.

The point being, Alexandre Despatie is an extremely resilient athlete. Although his injury appears to be very serious, it may not extinguish his burning passion to compete at London.

Since the age of 13, when he burst onto the international scene by winning gold on the 10-metre platform at the 1998 Commonwealth Games in Kuala Lumpur, Despatie has been a fixture among diving's elite. He has succeeded many times in spite of odds stacked against him, not the least of which includes Chinese opponents who dominate the sport.

It's safe to say Despatie's career has endured many things. And at 27 years of age, on his way to a fourth Olympic appearance, he may prove to be unsinkable.

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