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Jennifer Abel leads Canada into star-studded Montreal leg of diving World Series

Diving's elite talents descend upon Montreal for the first leg of the 2020 FINA World Series this weekend. The prestigious three-day, invite-only competition will highlight many of Canada's Olympic hopefuls.

3-day, invite-only competition begins at 12 p.m. ET on Friday, Feb. 28

Montreal's Jennifer Abel shows off her gold medal after winning the women's 3-metre springboard final at the 2019 Pan-Am Games. (Patrick Smith/Getty Images)

Montreal's Jennifer Abel will get a chance to size up a key Olympic rival in the friendly confines of her hometown when the city plays host to the first leg of the FINA Diving World Series.

Abel, 28, along with partner Mélissa Citrini-Beaulieu of Saint-Constant, Que., will compete in the women's 3-metre synchronized springboard against Australia's Maddison Keeney and Anabelle Smith. Keeney and Smith beat out Abel and then-partner Pamela Ware for bronze at the Rio Olympics in 2016 by just 0.87 points.

"It's going to be interesting to see how [Keeney] and Jennifer [Abel] are doing and how they're kind of rubbing shoulders," Diving Canada's Maelle Dancause told CBC Sports. "The two of them have been having a really good fight over the past few years."

The adversaries also met in the Montreal leg of last year's World Series competition, with Abel and Citrini-Beaulieu earning silver ahead of Keeney and Smith, who took bronze. However, in the individual 3-metre at the World Championships last July, it would be Keeney who edged out Abel for bronze — the Canadian placed fourth.

The World Series is a crucial step in the leadup to the Tokyo Olympics. It features up to five meets, but has been cut to three this year after the Beijing leg was cancelled due to the coronavirus epidemic. The Chinese team, a diving powerhouse, is not one of the 13 countries competing this weekend.

All of the action from Montreal will be streamed live on CBCSports.ca. Competition begins Friday, Feb. 28 at 12 p.m. ET, restarts Saturday morning at 10 a.m. ET and concludes on Sunday starting at 10 a.m. ET. The event will also be featured on CBC TV's Road to the Olympic Games at 4 p.m. ET on Saturday.

Experience and potential

Also competing for Canada are Montreal's Meaghan Benfeito, 27, who won two bronze medals in Rio, and 20-year-old Caeli McKay from Calgary.

"Caeli is the real deal," said Alexandre Despatie, the most successful male diver in Canadian history and two-time Olympic silver medallist. "She will definitely be a name to follow in the next few years in the world of diving. Not only in Canada, but internationally."

Presently, only the tandem of Abel and Citrini-Beaulieu, in the 3-metre synchro, are confirmed to compete for Canada in Tokyo. But Canada has already qualified two spots in women's 3-metre individual, two spots in women's 10-metre individual and one spot in men's 10-metre individual.

While no other Canadian divers can gain direct qualification to the Games this weekend, vital ranking points that go toward earning entry will be up for grabs. In addition, the World Series circuit provides a platform for competitors to measure their development against high-level opposition.

"To get to the World Series, you have to be in the best 10 or 12 in the world to be invited," Despatie told CBC Sports. "You get to test yourself multiple times throughout the year to see and feel what it's going to be like during the Olympics.

"It's like a league of the best in the world. We're lucky to have [a World Series] in Canada because these meets are very exclusive … In an Olympic year, it all means more."

Canada's Meaghan Benfeito, right, and Caeli McKay celebrate after winning gold in the women's 10-metre synchronized platform at the 2019 Pan-Am Games. (Pedro Pardo/AFP via Getty Images)

The return of David Boudia

With elevated stakes, so too is the level of competition, which will feature the comeback attempt of 2012 10-metre platform Olympic champion David Boudia of the United States.

Since returning to the pool, the 30-year-old Boudia – a four-time medallist and veteran of three Olympic Games – has shifted focus from the 10-metre platform to the 3-metre springboard, an event which requires an entirely different technique.

"With everything that he's achieved, as someone who has been the best in the world, he's going to be competitive no matter what," Despatie said. "He's not as young as most of the competitors that are going to be there, but he still has all of that knowledge. It will be exciting to see him."

Elsewhere, Britain boasts a pair of marquee talents in Tom Daley and Jack Laugher.

Daley, a two-time bronze medallist, made the first of his three Olympic appearances in 2008 at just 13 years of age. Laugher is a two-time Olympian and reigning 3-metre synchronized champion.

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