Roseline Filion, Jennifer Abel, Meaghan Benfeito and Pamela Ware always find time to have fun.
Yes, they train six days a week in Montreal. They spend hours at the pool, in the gym and on a trampoline perfecting their world-class dives.
They make more than 550 dives in a normal practice week and spend time fine-tuning their technique by watching themselves on video under the watchful eye of their coaches Arturo Miranda and Aaron Dziver.
But these four women stick out in the world of Olympic sports. They’re accomplished, beautiful and not afraid to exhibit their affable and playful personalities. They’re part Beatles, part Spice Girls.
Hence the Fab IV: F for Filion, A for Abel, B for Benfeito and the Roman numeral IV is a close likeness to the W in Ware. They even have a Twitter handle by the same moniker.
“We’re best friends,” Abel said. “We never get tired of each other.”
“It reminds me of being in a rock band. When I was younger I liked the Spice Girls. I liked the way they handled themselves in interviews and how much fun they appeared to have.”
Check out the photos of the Fab IV on the Internet. In particular, the one where they are walking across a crosswalk in downtown Montreal with a double-deck tour bus in the background - the perfect take on the Beatles famous Abbey Road album cover.
“That one is neat,” Ware said. “The photographer set that one up. We had to do it when that bus drove up.”
For Filion, Abel, Benfeito and Ware there is no more fun than winning medals. And this foursome has been excellent at finding the podium at international events. They have combined to win more than 70 medals.
Yes, even though stars Emilie Heymans and Alexandre Despatie have retired, Canadian diving is in good hands with the Fab IV.
They will be under pressure at the Pan Am Games in Toronto to not only carry on the reputation and tradition of the Canadian diving program, but they are expected to win.
“I love diving at home,” Benfeito said. “You have your friends, family and fans watching you in the stands. The louder the better.
“There will be pressure, but it will be a good pressure. Gold is the goal.”
Benfeito knows home pressure
Benfeito knows all about competing at home. She and her 10-metre synchro teammate, Filion, have been partnered for a decade. They’re first big competition together was at the world aquatics championship in Montreal in 2005, and they didn’t disappoint after a bronze-medal performance.
“I still remember being in Montreal and I remember walking up to the tower and looking at Rosie and being like, wow they actually know who we are,” she recalled.
“This is really weird. We were 16 and 18, first international event, first world championship and we don’t know what to expect. You don’t know how big it can be and I think just by remembering that is going to be great for here.
“We have competed in Canada, um, a few times, we have World Series, we have little competitions, but having the Pan Ams is going to be absolutely amazing. We know that the crowd is going to be incredible and just knowing we’re going to have family and friends will be here and supporting us, hoping we can give an amazing show and coming out on top would be a dream come true.”
Benfeito originally was a competitive swimmer. However, when she was starting out after some practice sessions the coach would reward his students with a trip to the diving end of the pool.
She already found herself distracted watching Despatie and Heymans on occasion because they trained at the same pool. So eventually Benfeito returned home one day to ask her mother if she could switch from swimming to diving.
Heymans made the transition seamless. She was a role model to Benfeito back then and the two still remain close today.
“It’s very important having Emilie as a role model,” said the 26-year-old Benfeito, who also is a 10-metre individual specialist. “We used to go up to her, ‘how do you do this? How do you do that?’ And just knowing the fact that they would help me.”
All this even though Benfeito and Filion qualified for the 2008 Beijing Olympics after they upset Heymans and her partner Marie-Eve Marleau. That’s why Benfeito doesn’t hesitate to help out young divers today.
“I know that the girls are little, that they have a harder time with 10 metre and they’re scared,” Benfeito said. “Diving is scary, it’s not an easy sport and you just let them know that you have to have confidence in yourself and the more you’re confident, the better your performance will be.
“It doesn’t matter if you are flat or if you miss a dive. You move on, you go back up and that’s how I was brought up.”
Filion's Olympic fever
The 27-year-old Filion was brought up in an Olympic family in the sense that her father and mother are riveted to the television when the Olympics are on.
This is a family tradition that began when the Summer Games were in Montreal in 1976. Dad attended a few of the events. Mom was a volunteer.
Filion remembers the exact moment she was hooked. It was when she was nine and watching the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, when Annie Pellitier won a bronze medal in the three-metre discipline.
Eight years later, Filion and Benfeito made their Olympic debut and finished seventh. Then, at the 2012 London Games, they checked in with a bronze-medal performance.
A big help in their development has been Miranda. The Cuban-born former diver competed alongside Despatie in the three-metre synchro event at the 2008 Olympics – they finished fifth – and sometimes whips on his speedo to demonstrate first-hand a trick or two.
“Arturo understands the diver side more than anybody else because he’s been diving for over 30 years,” Filion said. “When you have feedback for a dive, he’s able to explain how we must feel when in the air and how, where to see the exact spot, to know where to finish the dive perfectly so he has that, it’s so good for me.
“I don’t think I’ve ever met somebody who believes more in me. He’s ready to push me, to put me out of my comfort zone and you need to be out of your comfort zone to do great things. It’s something I needed to learn and I’m so grateful that he’s my coach now.”
Ware youngest Fab IV
The 22-year-old Ware, the youngest of the Fab IV, is the only one of the foursome who is not coached by Miranda. She is coached by Dziver.
Ware is comfortable with Dziver, and unlike her three teammates, wants to stick with someone she credits to her early success.
“He’s like my second dad,” she said. “He helps me out with so much, not just diving, but life.”
Ware competes in the three-metre discipline and is also partnered with Abel in the three-metre synchro. Abel and Ware combined to win a bronze medal at the 2013 world aquatics championship in Barcelona.
She, too, has gained inspiration from Despatie, whom she refers to as an older brother. It was his success that has motivated Ware.
“I like pushing the limits, like doing really hard dives that not many girls do,” she said.
“I do a dive, reverse three and a half, that I’m the only girl to do it right now that I know of. I just really like pushing limits and when I don’t get the results that I want to get. I’m really hard on myself.”
It wasn’t always this way. Ware remembers as a youngster returning home from practice one day, telling her mother she wanted to quit because she couldn’t complete a reverse pike.
But her Mom, Sandra, wouldn’t let her daughter quit.
“I thank her often for not letting me quit,” Ware said. “She’s been my taxi, my bank, my role model. I don’t know where I’d be without her.”
It was Ware’s father who gets the credit, however, for nurturing the inner–diver in his daughter.
When she and her sister were younger Patrick would take his daughters to the public pool in Greenfield Park on Montreal’s south shore.
He would reward them with a Popsicle for a simple front flip, but a back flip resulted in a trip to the local Dairy Queen.
“Everybody likes Dairy Queen, don’t they?” she said.
The next day when the Wares returned to the pool, a lifeguard saw the young diver and encouraged her to join the local club. Now she’s one of the best in the world and a member of the Fab IV, something she believes she benefits from.
“It does help,” Ware said. “It helps that we’re close. If we have problems we can bounce ideas off each other and help each other. If one does well, we all want to do well. It’s almost like an internal competition.”
Abel needed brother's approval
Competition and sports have always been important to the Abel family. But also important to Jennifer was to be liked by her older brother, Andy.
“When we would go to the pool, I wanted my brother to think I was cool,” the 23-year-old Abel said. “I was in synchronized swimming first. He was a diver and I wanted to be like him. So I showed him that I wasn’t afraid of the water or heights.”
She was a natural and before she knew it her mom, Sylvie, a city bus driver, was driving her route in Montreal with her daughter’s likeness donning the side of vehicle because of the Canadian Olympic Committee’s ”Tout Donner” multi-media campaign.
Abel burst onto the world scene at the Beijing Olympics in 2008, when at 16 she became one of the youngest Canadians to compete in an Olympic Games.
Four years later, partnered with Heymans, the two won a bronze medal in the three-meter synchrony.
“Of course, it helped making the Olympics at 16,” she said. “After that I didn’t see senior competition like I used to see it. After London, it’s where I saw everything completely different.
“Doing synchrony with Emilie put me in, not a higher situation but a different situation that now. I knew I had to be focused.
“That’s the reason why now when I train it’s completely different. I have fun, but I don’t play around. I stay focused from as soon as I put my first foot on the board and when I get out of the water.”
Making the transition from a legend like Heymans to Ware has been an easy one. First off, they’ve known each other a long time and are like sisters. But Abel has changed alongside Ware.
“It was hard at first to let Emilie take her retirement peacefully,” Abel said. “Doing synchrony with Pam, creating a new routine and having a girl who is your age, that was the hardest part. Emilie was 10 years older than me, so she was really serious, she was focused during training, and she really loves to talk.
“Pam is a little bit different. Pam likes to play around, she likes to say jokes but when it’s the moment to dive, she’s serious. But as soon as the dive is done, we have to talk, we like have fun. That took me a while to understand. Once I figured it out we saw the results right away.”