Canada up against Chinese 'army' at diving world championships
Can up-and-coming Riendeau, teammates sway judges with style?
Vincent Riendeau could find the mental game as challenging as the physical obstacles at this week's diving world championships.
Expectations for the up-and-coming Canadian, who added three new dives to his 10-metre platform routine following last summer's 14th-place performance at the Rio Olympics, have been tempered due to recent back problems.
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Instability and tightness in his back have bothered Riendeau and forced him to scrap a backwards 2½ pike with 2½ twists for worlds. However, this season he has added a back 2½ pike and handstand back triple pike, dives with a higher degree of difficulty, in hopes of becoming a consistent medal contender.
"I've been better than I was the past couple of weeks," Riendeau said over the phone last week from his training site in Bolzano, Italy. "It's been a little rocky coming back from the [FINA Diving] World Series. I've been working almost daily with physiotherapists."
Riendeau struggled at three World Series events in March, placing sixth, sixth and fifth. But the 20-year-old from Montreal bounced back with a silver medal in Gatineau, Que., in early April.
Afterwards, Riendeau analyzed his mental strength leading up to and during those competitions, understanding the preparation would be different for a larger and longer event like the world championships in Budapest, Hungary, where diving competition runs July 14-22.
"I have to let go of how my training or a practice run went before the event," said Riendeau, who finished 16th on 10m platform two years ago at worlds in Kazan, Russia. "It's about keeping a clear mind and a strong attitude about what needs to be done for each dive."
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Mitch Geller, the chief technical officer in charge of high performance and athlete development for Diving Plongeon Canada, said that while Riendeau's front entry to the water continues to be less consistent than his backward entries, they are anticipating a breakthrough on the front spin dives.
"The quality [of his new dives] is on par with the simpler dives. The twists are still difficult for him but he's ahead of the curve for what I would have anticipated," Geller said of Riendeau, whom he described as analytical, observant and super-disciplined. "With Vince, it's a matter of balancing the amount of somersault with the amount of twist. There's a feel for it."
Riendeau, who only in the past two weeks returned to his weekly 20-24 hours of training, believes a top-12 finish is a realistic goal in Budapest.
Canada has entered 11 divers — five male and six female — at this year's world championships, looking to build on its four-medal showing (four silver, four bronze) from 2015 in Kazan, Russia. The Canadians will compete in all events, save two — the men's 10-metre synchro platform and the team event — and will be in tough against China, which won seven of eight diving golds in Rio.
"They have around 40 programs that have about 200 athletes in each, all of whom could be considered superstar material," said Geller of the Chinese. "It's that kind of an army you're up against.
"We may have a competitive advantage in the style of diving. Can we do something that's more moving, impressive for the judges?"
5 more Canadians to watch
Meaghan Benfeito — The three-time Olympic medallist is set for her seventh world championships after contemplating retirement when her longtime synchro partner Roseline Filion called it a career after Rio. Benfeito, a bronze medallist at the 2016 Olympics, has yet to win a world title, having earned silver two years ago in both the women's and mixed 10m synchro platform.
Caeli McKay — The 18-year-old Calgarian put her individual aspirations on hold this season to focus on her new 10m synchro partnership with Benfeito. McKay and Benfeito won World Series silver in Russia at the end of March and placed fourth in the 10m synchro in Gatineau, Que., in April.
Francois Imbeau-Dulac — He has re-invented himself after being named an alternate for the Rio Olympics but not competing. In late May, Imbeau-Dulac won a silver medal on the 3-metre in Madrid, his first career medal on the FINA Grand Prix circuit. Less than a week later, the native of St-Lazare, Que., won for the first time since 2013, taking the men's 3-metre at the Canadian summer nationals and world championship trials. At the 2015 worlds, Imbeau-Dulac won silver with Jennifer Abel in the mixed 3m synchro.
Jennifer Abel — The Laval, Que., native will be looking to regain her mental strength following the disappointment of fourth-place finishes at the Rio Olympics in 3m springboard and 3m synchro with Pamela Ware. This will be the 25-year-old''s fifth world championships after medalling in 2011 (synchro silver, 3m bronze), 2013 (synchro bronze) and 2015 (synchro silver).
Olivia Chamandy — In 2016, she became the first Canadian diver to win two medals at a single world juniors since Blythe Hartley in 2000. Chamandy, 16, is making her worlds debut after nailing her final dive to grab the second spot in the women's 10m tower at the Summer Nationals diving competition in Toronto in June.
5 international athletes to watch
Chris Mears/Jack Laugher — men's synchro 3m springboard: Eleven months after winning Great Britain's first Olympic diving gold medal, the two friends are eyeing their first world title following Commonwealth and European crowns in 2014 and 2016. Eight years ago, a 16-year-old Mears was given a five per cent chance of survival after his spleen ruptured from contracting the Epstein Barr virus, but he returned to the pool 18 months later.
Kim Kuk Hyang — women's 10m springboard: Two years ago, Kim was not among the favourites and surprised many by finishing first at the worlds in Kazan, Russia. She rebounded from a 25th-place finish at the Rio Olympics to win a pair of bronze this season in the 10m springboard at World Series events.
Tom Daley — men's 10m platform/10m synchro: Britain's first diving world champion eight years ago at age 15, and again in 2015, Daley will try for a third 10m platform title in Budapest. The former judoka is also a two-time Olympic bronze medallist, placing third in the 10m platform five years ago in London and last summer in Rio with Daniel Goodfellow in 10m synchro.
Qiu Bo — men's 10m platform: The Chinese star will be among the favourites at Duna Arena as he tries for a fourth consecutive gold medal at worlds after a disappointing sixth-place finish at the 2016 Rio Olympics. The 24-year-old Qiu and American Greg Louganis are the only men to win a world championship three straight times.
Ren Qian — women's 10m platform: Ren, 16, is looking to improve on her silver-medal performance from the 2015 world championships. Six months after winning the 2016 FINA Diving World Cup, she finished first at the Rio Olympics, leading a Chinese 1-2 with Si Yajie and becoming the only competitor to earn more than 90 points on a single dive.