Stepping up

When Diving Canada revealed prior to the 2008 Beijing Games that it was shooting for a record haul of five medals, the organization significantly raised the expectations of the entire program.

Can Canadian divers other than Despatie and Heymans deliver in Rome?

Despite suffering various injuries, Alexandre Despatie, of Laval, Que., remains Canada's best male diver. ((Jonathan Hayward/Canadian Press))

When Diving Canada revealed prior to the 2008 Beijing Olympics that it was shooting for a record medal haul, the organization significantly raised expectations of the entire program.

Quebec divers Alexandre Despatie and Émilie Heymans did their parts, winning silver medals despite competing under some difficult circumstances.

The rest of the team, however, failed to come through when it counted most.

Now, with the world aquatics championships set for Rome starting Friday July 17, divers like Meaghan Benfeito and Roseline Filion must rebound from their disappointment in Beijing if the Canadians are to forge ahead.

Anne Montminy, a silver medallist with Heymans in the women's 10-metre platform synchro competition during the 2000 Sydney Games, doesn't think Canadians should expect better results in Italy.

Montminy, who will call the action for CBC beginning Saturday, July 19 (CBC Sports,, 5 p.m. ET), spoke about Despatie's possible decline, Heymans's future and other up-and-coming divers. There were a lot of expectations placed on the Canadian diving team in Beijing after Diving Canada publicly stated its athletes had a shot at winning five medals. Aside from Alex and Émilie, how would you rate the team's performance?

Montminy: I thought it was good. You can never really predict [results] when it comes to the Olympics. Sure, we could've come away with five medals but so could a lot of other countries. It was a possibility that we could've walked away with no medals, so two silvers – considering the Chinese were in their hometown and they were so dominant – is pretty good.

It was a little disappointing when Émilie didn't come away with a gold medal [in the 10-metre platform event] but I remember that event very vividly and the Chinese woman [Ruolin Chen] had to basically get 10s on her last dive and she did it. Émilie deserved her silver and that was a real solid performance on her part. Alex had been having trouble [with a foot injury] leading up to the three-metre springboard event and I was actually surprised that he came away with the silver. It was a little disappointing that Meaghan Benfeito and Roseline Filion didn't come away with a bronze [in the women's 10-metre platform synchro], but that's placing pretty high expectations on them. Alex erased any doubts about his injured foot with a terrific performance in Beijing. However, he has endured various injuries throughout his career. What are you expecting from him in Rome and beyond?

Montminy: I think Alex is on the decline. He's been injured and he's having trouble in training. Frankly, I think he's pretty much spent. With his injuries and the up-and-coming [international] divers, I think it will be very hard for him to stay on top. That being said, he is the best competitor I have ever seen. I think now he's going to be an outside threat rather than be the one to beat. Going forward in the next four-year cycle, it's going to be hard for someone like Alex to stay on top. In Reuben Ross, Alex has a new partner for the three-metre synchro competition. They broke a national senior record two weeks ago at the 2009 Summer Senior National championships in Quebec City – their first competition together. Can this team make an impact on the international scene?

Montminy: Yes, I think they can. Reuben is a tremendous individual diver and he's better than Arturo Miranda [Despatie's former partner]. He has a lot of potential. I think this next four-year cycle is one where he's going to be on the upswing. They are a good team. Reuben is a pretty good competitor as well, and he's very excited to be diving with Alex so I think he's going to rise to the occasion. Reuben appears ready to become Canada's next male medal contender in the three-metre springboard. What does he need to do to take the next step and make a name for himself?

Montminy: He is definitely the next person after Alex. I really see no one other than Reuben who can succeed Alex. He's a beautiful diver, has lovely lines [body position] and a terrific toe point. He's not that strong and finishes his dives really low. He needs to jump a little higher and work on his quickness. Reuben is sluggish in that area. When you watch Alex dive, he gets into his rotations really quickly. When you watch the Chinese men dive, it's the same thing. Reuben just needs a little more strength overall to compete with the Chinese. Many expected Émilie to falter in her individual event at the Beijing Games after failing to qualify with partner Marie-Eve Marleau in the 10-metre platform synchro during the Canadian Trials. But you were adamant that she would thrive and she did come within a whisker of winning the gold medal. Why were you so confident she would dive so well?

Despatie, right, congratulates Émilie Heymans after the fellow Quebec native captured a silver medal at the 2008 Beijing Olympics. ((Paul Chiasson/Canadian Press))

Montminy: Her back was up against the wall and that was her only opportunity to win a medal. She reminds me a little of myself. I was not the greatest competitor either. I needed to be super stressed and I think she's the same. It was either perform or go down the toilet. Émilie needed that tremendous pressure and she's never had that before. She's always had another Olympics in the background, another event that she could possibly medal in. I think she really needed to have her back up against the wall in order to perform. What was going through your mind when Émilie nailed her last dive, giving her a chance at gold just before Chen's final attempt?

Montminy: I thought Émilie was going to win, I really did. I didn't expect this little [Chinese] girl to go up and smoke the pants out of her last dive. I did not expect that at all. I am the first person to criticize the judging but [Chen] won fair and square. Some thought she would retire after winning her third Olympic medal — joining Caroline Brunet, Phil Edwards, Leslie Thompson-Willie and Karen Cockburn as the only Canadians to win at least three medals in three consecutive Games. However, she's left the 10-metre individual event for the three-metre springboard. What is keeping her going?

Montminy: Letting go of being one of the best in the world is tough. She's older now [27] so I don't think she can maintain the same sort of excellence on the 10-metre platform because it's so difficult on your body. She's done three-metre in the past and this is a good way to get back. After diving in the 10-metre, competing in the springboard is a joke. You're never stressed. She knows she can do it and it's a good way for her to continue in a sport that she's good at. Benfeito and Filion shocked Heymans and Marleau at last season's Canadian Olympic trials, but were disappointing in Beijing. Can they rebound in Rome?

Montminy: Frankly, they do well internationally, but they're just not that good. Synchro is a team sport and you have to have two good athletes to be good. If you have two good athletes you can win a medal at the Olympics. Which Canadian women do you feel are ready to take over from Émilie?

Montminy: It's not as clear-cut as it is on the men's side. Jennifer Abel [three-metre] has the most talent. She's extremely powerful and she's gotten a lot better. Initially, she just could not control her power, but she's gotten a lot better in harnessing that over the past two years or so. She also has to work on her lines a little bit more, but she has tremendous potential. If Benfeito gets her act together and does all of her dives to the best of her ability, she can come in the top three, but I don't think she'll ever beat a Chinese diver. She just doesn't have the ability. China, which won seven of eight goal medals in Beijing, is expected to dominate in Rome. Why has this nation been able to sustain such a high level of excellence?

Montminy: I just think they train more than anybody else. They don't go to school and they train eight hours a day. What other country can you do that in? I mean, it's their national sport and they have amazing facilities in towns that basically have nothing else. I've competed in China in towns where people don't have plumbing and yet we're competing in these facilities that are tremendous. They put a lot of money into [diving].