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Olympics

Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Diving into Oly four-peat

Canada's first medal historic for Heymans

Posted: 07/30/2012 1:00 AM | Comments: 0

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LONDON -- Her career was forged in more than two decades of training, of six-hour sessions, of 80 dives a day, five days a week.

If Emilie Heymans decides to retire after the London Olympics, she's going out in fitting fashion.

The St. Lambert, Que., diver captured Canada's first medal of the Games with partner Jennifer Abel on Sunday, launching herself into the history books in the process.

The Canadians won bronze in the three-metre synchronized event, a result that makes Heymans the first female diver and first Canadian summer Olympian to reach the podium in four consecutive Olympic Games.

"I couldn't have ever imagined diving in four Games, or being in this position at 30," Heymans said.

Heymans won silver in the 10-metre synchro in 2000, bronze in the same event in Athens in 2004, and a silver in the 10-metre individual event four years ago in Beijing.

Heymans and Abel had silver in their sights Sunday, sitting in second place behind Chinese world champions Minxia Wu and He Zi after the first dive. But they were jostled by television cameras when they were practising on the pool deck before their second dive -- a moment Heymans said burst their bubble of focus.

They were noticeably out of sync on the board in Dive 2 -- a forward dive in pike position, normally an easy feat for the duo -- and fell to fifth place.

"I think both of us, in our head it was like: What's going on, what's going on?" Heymans said. "But after we were able to calm down and come back to the competition and we know it's never over until the last dive."

Heymans and Abel, a 20-year-old from Laval, Que., battled back to win bronze with 316.80 points. World champions Minxia Wu and He Zi of China led from start to finish to take the gold with an overall score of 346.20. Americans Kelci Bryant and Abigail Johnston captured silver with 321.90.

The medal on the second full day of competition is good news for a Canadian team aiming for a top-12 finish overall, and takes some pressure off the rest of the squad, said Mark Tewksbury, Canada's chef de mission.

"Do you see me? I'm electrified. I'm a little shaky," said a teary-eyed Tewksbury.

"It's a different narrative. Traditionally the past couple of Games, in the summer, it's been the second weekend or Day 6. That's a long time sometimes and it just changes the whole course of things from here on in."

Canada went seven days without a medal in Beijing before the men's rowing pair and wrestler Carol Huynh ended the drought on Day 8 with silver and gold respectively. Wrestler Tonya Verbeek also added a bronze that day.

In 2004, Heymans and partner Blythe Hartley's bronze was the lone medal in the opening seven days.

Heymans, who is also competing in the individual three-metre springboard event in London, will decide her future following the Games.

She said she might dive one more year. It won't be an easy decision for a woman who has trained at least 20 hours a week since she was seven.

"Actually sport is my entire life, it's what I've been doing since I was six years old. I think I'm going to carry this baggage for the rest of my life," she said, meaning it in a good way.

A child of sporting parents -- dad Eric played soccer in Belgium, and mom Marie-Paule Van Eyck, competed in Montreal's 1976 Olympics as a member of the Belgian fencing team -- the blond diver was originally a gymnast who coaches told was too tall for that sport.

Her parents encouraged her to try diving.

"At first I didn't want to try, I didn't even want to go to the pool because I loved gymnastics so I didn't want to quit and I hate being wet, I hate being in the water, and I'm always cold," she said.

But the diver, who distracts herself between dives by watching movies, grew to love the sport and has won medals in all of the major multi-sport Games since she splashed onto the international diving scene in 1999.

Her parents were in the crowd at the Aquatic Centre at Olympic Park watching their daughter make history, and were all smiles as Heymans and Abel climbed onto the medal podium in their red Team Canada tracksuits.

But it's been a roller-coaster career for Heymans.

After a disappointing fourth-place finish at the 2005 world championships in Montreal, her then-coach Michel Larouche was critical, creating a rift in their relationship. It was a time the diver has called the most difficult in her career and led to her decision to leave Larouche and join another club under the tutelage of coach Yihua Li.

"She had lots of highs and lows in her career," said Sylvie Bernier, a diving gold medallist at the '84 Games and Canada's assistant chef de mission in London. "It's not always been easy for her, but she always came back and she was always up there."

 

-- The Canadian Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 30, 2012 C1

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