Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Young diving stars to strut their stuff at Polar Bear meet

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THERE won't be any Alex Despatie, Emily Heymans, Beverly Boys, Greg Louganis, Janet Nutter, Win Young or Klaus Dibiasi at the 41st annual Polar Bear Invitational diving meet at Pan Am Pool this weekend.

But there will be the likes of Morgan Wankling, Cole Funk and Natasha Higham, all of them age-group divers ranging from 11 to 14 years old who'll be competing in the same event as all those Olympic and international diving greats since the 1960s.

They'll be joined by about 100 of the best young divers from Ontario and the western provinces -- including Winnipeg senior national team members Kevin Geyson and Lauren Penko -- at the oldest invitational annual diving meet in Canada by far.

And it's all free.

"We've had all the greatest divers in the world at one time or another participate in their age-group levels and up through their senior levels," Pan Am Diving Club head coach Jim Lambie said Wednesday.

"The legacy continues. We've got all these new young kids coming up, we touch on over 500 kids a year in our Learn to Dive programs. It's a pretty healthy sport and diving is one of our No. 1 sports in the country in terms of Olympic medals.

"So any kind of chance to get out and see some of the best up-and-comers in the country, this is a great meet to see that and it's the first one of the season. All of the kids are trying to strut their stuff."

The meet has evolved over the years, becoming the Easter Invitational which evolved into Dive Canada, one of the world's major Grand Prix diving events. The club kept this meet going as the Pan Am Invitational, then changed it to the Polar Bear.

Most elite international divers aren't training hard in the aftermath of the 2008 Beijing Olympics, "so this year, we're looking at a pretty good age-group event and not a very big senior event and that's very normal right across the country."

Saskatoon's Sam Valentine and Edmonton's Angelina Kroupko, who was born in Moscow, are both national age-group champions and will be among the most impressive of the divers to watch.

Funk was a national finalist in the 11-12 group last year and Wankling, Higham and Lily Kaufmann have all moved up and are being coached personally by Lambie. Wankling won the provincial age-group titles in all three Prairie provinces in 2008.

chris.cariou@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition January 15, 2009 C4

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