Familiar territory

The negative thoughts running through the mind of Alexandre Despatie didn't last long.

Quebec's Alexandre Despatie looks to make a comeback from another injury

Quebec native Alexandre Despatie initially thought his Olympics were in jeopardy after he broke a bone in his right foot. ((Dusan Vranic/Associated Press))

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The negative thoughts running through the mind of Alexandre Despatie didn't last long. The Olympics, after all, were months away and there was still time for his fractured right foot to heal.

Despair initially consumed Despatie when doctors told him that he broke the long bone connecting to his little toe early in April. The prognosis for such an injury usually is a recovery period of four to six weeks, a process that rattled the native of Laval, Que., when he learned of the bad news. As the days passed, however, Despatie's outlook significantly improved.

"I was lucky when the injury happened," he told CBCSports.ca. "If it occurred any later, I wouldn't have been ready for the Olympics. I wouldn't go if I only had a limited amount of time to get ready. There would be no point."

Despatie sustained the fracture moments before a training session at Montreal's Olympic pool. During the soccer portion of the warmup — a normal practice regimen for Despatie and some of his teammates — the former three-time world champion was loosening up on a mat by the pool when he took a nasty fall and heard a crack in his foot.

"I already knew that something was wrong," he admitted. "So I went for some X-rays and the doctors told me that the fifth metatarsus was fractured. At first I didn't know how long it would take to get back and I wondered if my Olympics were over. But when I was told of the time period, I knew I still had a good chance to heal and be ready for Beijing."

Seeks help from specialist
Eager to begin his rehabilitation, Despatie and Mitch Geller, chief technical officer of Diving Canada, sought out the assistance of prominent specialist Igor Burdenko, founder and chairman of the Water and Sports Therapy Institute just outside of Boston.
Despatie hopes his recovery mirrors that of former American figure skater Nancy Kerrigan. ((Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press))

Burdenko has worked with several top athletes, but is best remembered for helping American figure skater Nancy Kerrigan recover from a knee injury in time to participate in the 1994 Lillehammer Olympics. In a bizarre incident caught on tape, Kerrigan was a target of a planned attack orchestrated by rival skater Tonya Harding weeks before the Winter Games. Despite her setback, Kerrigan went on to capture a silver medal.

Despatie hopes his recovery mirrors that of Kerrigan's. Using cutting-edge laser therapy to expedite the healing process, Burdenko has also devised a customized workout routine specifically designed for the young Canadian.

The 22-year-old diver has visited Burdenko twice since his tumble, and is encouraged with the progress of the rehabilitation. 

"It's coming along very well," said Despatie. "I'm following everything that my doctors are telling me to do and I have a good fitness program in and out of the water. My rehab involves a bit of everything, including posture control and hip flexor exercises."

Worked out in Italy
Despatie was in Italy last month to avoid the constant media barrage at home while maintaining his workout schedule with synchronized teammate Arturo Miranda. He missed four key events leading to the Olympics and was also forced to skip the Canadian Olympic trials in Victoria, B.C.
After missing 10 months with neck and back injuries, Despatie made a successful comeback by winning two silver medals at the 2007 world championships. ((Torsten Blackwodd/AFP/Getty Images))

Diving Canada's national team director, Nancy Brawley, conditionally placed Despatie on the team provided he received a clean bill of health once the diving squad was nominated to the Canadian Olympic Committee. Despatie secured his Olympic spot on July 10 after satisfying a panel of three international FINA judges by performing a set of dives off the 3-metre springboard in Thunder Bay, Ont.

Despatie and Miranda were also required to dive in a simulated competitive environment for their synchro event.

''Honestly, I was confident that we would meet the conditions set by Diving Canada,'' said Despatie. ''I've been diving well since I've recovered from my injury. We are currently putting all our efforts towards performing to the utmost of our abilities at the Olympics."

Making a successful recovery from a serious injury is not foreign to Despatie, a silver medallist in the springboard four years ago in Athens.  After starring at the 2005 world aquatics championships with two springboard gold medals in front of a raucous Montreal crowd, Despatie missed 10 months of the following season due to back and neck injuries. 

Determined to return at full capacity, Despatie rediscovered his diving prowess by earning a pair of springboard silvers — one in the individual competition, another in the synchronized portion with Miranda — at the 2007 world championships in Melbourne. This arduous comeback is what continues to drive Despatie as he turns his attention to Beijing.

"If I prepare well and I'm mentally and physically fit when I get to the Olympics, then nothing is impossible," he said. "I've made it back to compete at the highest level before. The Olympics are a very special meet, so who knows what level I can reach once I get there."

Chinese tops in springboard events
Aside from his injured foot, Despatie will have to deal with a dominant Chinese team and a partisan Beijing crowd if he hopes to add more Olympic medals to his impressive resume. 
Divers Qin Kai, left, and Wang Feng are expected to continue China's dominance in Beijing. ((Mark Dadswell/Getty Images))

The Chinese men have owned the springboard events since 1996 and their legion of supporters expect divers Wang Feng and Qin Kai to continue the nation's supremacy. Yet high expectations and pressure affect some athletes in a negative way, something Despatie doesn't discount.

"Guys are going to be nervous," he said. "The Olympics are in their backyard, which means there will be more pressure on them and we don't know how they're going to deal with that. Plus, there are a lot of other great divers out there who could have outstanding performances."

It is a goal Despatie desperately wants to achieve once he returns to the diving board.

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