Diving

Canadian diver Meaghan Benfeito greeted by familiar face after plunging into post-Olympic life

After falling just short of qualifying for the women's 10-metre platform final by an agonizing five points at the Tokyo Games, Meaghan Benfeito was comforted by former synchro partner Roseline Filion.

32-year-old Montreal native fell just short of qualifying for 10m platform final

Thursday's 10-metre semifinal marked the end of Meaghan Benfeito's Olympic career, although the three-time Olympic medallist hasn't ruled out a final FINA World Series event (Clive Rose/Getty Images)

It wasn't how Meaghan Benfeito wanted to end her Olympic career.

Sitting on the bubble of moving onto the 10-metre platform final, she'd need to nail an inward three-and-a-half somersaults to have a chance at advancing.

It was the same dive which scored her a 73.60 at the Rio Olympics in 2016, in the same event, to clinch the bronze medal.

But this time, she was unsure of it, later telling Radio-Canada that throughout the competition she was nervous and "it was like my body knew how to do the dives, but my head wasn't there."

Still, she dove, over-rotated on the entry, and scored a 52.80 to finish in 13th place in the semifinal — an agonizing five points shy of a spot in the final of what she said is her last Olympics.

And as she emerged from the locker room to do a final round of mixed-zone interviews, a familiar face awaited her.

Together, Roseline Filion and Benfeito, a 32-year-old native of Montreal, twice reached the Olympic podium in the 10-metre synchronized event. Filion, who retired from diving in 2017, is in Tokyo covering the Games for Radio-Canada. And what better event for her to cover?

And so, for one final time, Benfeito went through the Olympic mixed-zone, with her longtime friend there to take her into post-Olympic life.

"Especially since I've gone through the last three Olympics with her, it was nice to have that person as a kind of comfort zone," Benfeito told CBC Sports. 

"Even if she was on the other side, it was nice to be able to talk to her. She knew exactly what questions to ask and she knows not to ask questions that are going to make me cry. So it was nice to have her, she knows how I feel deep down inside."

Filion even surprised Benfeito with a heartfelt open letter to her, published by Radio-Canada on the first day of the Olympic diving competitions — a sort of friendly tit-for-tat for the farewell letter Benfeito penned titled Diving Without Roseline following Filion's retirement.

"I felt like it was kind of, not payback, but she wanted to make me cry for making her cry," Benfeito said, giggling.

"It felt good to read because she is the person that knows me the most. She knows how I react to things, she knows how I think. I don't have to say something for her to know exactly how I feel.

"So it was nice to read it right before the synchro event. It kind of motivated me even more knowing that she feels like that and that she thinks of me like that. That was something nice to read."

WATCH | Meghan Benfeito on her Olympic career: 'I put all my effort into diving':

The Olympians: Meaghan Benfeito

2 years ago
Duration 3:08
The 32-year-old diver already owns three Olympic bronze medals. In Tokyo, Benfeito will again compete in both the solo event and the synchro with 22-year-old Caeli McKay.

'I can be very proud of myself'

The message from Benfeito through all the interviews she's done since missing out in the final, is she's proud of herself. And that's the takeaway from her Tokyo experience.

Nevermind training in a pandemic, or a house fire which left Benfeito without so much as a pair of socks — as Filion wrote in her letter, having been on the phone with Benfeito as the apartment complex burned.

And while medalling twice in Rio is obviously her most fond Olympic memory, in many ways Benfeito says the Tokyo Games are one to remember.

"Just because they were so uncertain. Going into the 2020 season, we didn't know what to expect, and then they were postponed. There were plenty of articles saying that they were going to be cancelled, and training through that was extremely hard," she said.

"I think just the fact that being here competing at the Olympic games, I can be very proud of myself to have pushed through all of this and finish with a smile."

WATCH | The Olympians: Meaghan Benfeito:

'I'll be there and I'll remind them that it's fun'

Benfeito won her first major diving medal in 2005 when she was 16 years old at the World Championships in Montreal – a whole two years before this year's Olympic champion Quan Hongchan was even born.

"It's crazy to think. I feel the Chinese divers are getting younger, and younger, and younger. Or it's just me that's getting older," Benfeito said, adding China's diving program has motivated the rest of the world to be better.

And while diving has generally been a sport with a young field, Benfeito says it's been fun to watch the fearlessness come out from the younger generation of divers.

"We get cleaner into the entries, we get bigger dives. I feel like leading up to 2024 or 2028, we're going to see even bigger dives. It's fun to watch," she said.

Among the Canadians, Benfeito's message has always been to just enjoy the sport — words of wisdom she recalls getting from Olympic medallists Emilie Heymans and Alexandre Despatie when she started out.

"You don't dive because you have to dive. You dive because you want to dive and you're there because you want to be there," Benfeito said she learned from her mentors.

"That's something I'm going to keep pushing through to the younger generation. Even if I'm not around, that's something they can rely on me for. I'll be there and I'll remind them that it's fun."

Benfeito hasn't ruled out entering another diving competition before she officially retires, noting a potential entry into a FINA World Series event — the circuit has a stop scheduled in Montreal in October.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Nick Murray

Reporter

Nick Murray is a CBC News reporter, based in Iqaluit since 2015. He specializes in investigative reporting and access to information legislation. A graduate from St. Thomas University's journalism program, he's also covered four Olympic Games as a senior writer with CBC Sports.

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