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A “knee buckler,” as divers call what happened up there, out of balance as he launched the forward 2 ½ somersault with two twists in the pike position, knees buckling, yet fighting valiantly to rescue the mutant thing in mid-air, and at least managing to hit the water with an entry that avoided both complete ignominy, even injury.
The diving stalwart, an athlete who revolutionized the sport in Canada and inspired a generation coming up behind, has had quite enough of injury, thank you very much: Wonky knee, bursitis, scalping and concussion a mere six weeks ago.
That goes a long way towards explaining what befell the 27-year-old Tuesday evening.
And yet it’s okay.
If this is indeed the end of the road for the Montreal native — and Despatie will take time to ponder whether he will continue to compete next year — then let a splendid career be his diving epitaph and London 2012 a footnote with an asterisk.
“Diving’s been all my life and I’ve given everything I have to be the best that I could be. It’s taught me everything about life, not only about sports. Diving is what I do, it’s not who I am. But at the same time, diving sort of built up my character, built the person I am today.
A long and trying year, it’s been, that vivid scar across his forehead – from hitting the board during a mid-June training session in Madrid, requiring emergency surgery — only the most visible evidence. He arrived in London with just half the necessary preparation, at best, after recovering from concussion. Against this field, that was never going to be enough.
No regrets, though.
“That’s what the Olympics are to us. That’s how special they are to us. That’s how much we want to be here. It’s been the most difficult year of my life but I would do it again.
“I definitely discovered a lot about myself in the past year. You push, you push, you push — you want to see how far you can push. I don’t think I asked too much of myself. With the lack of training, with all the magnitude of the Olympics, I managed to be focused and be in my place, where I was in control. And that to me is special.”
It was special. And it took guts for Despatie to include, as his fifth jump, the immensely difficult forward 4 ½ somersault, a dive he’d only ever performed in competition once. The result was not as hoped — 74.10 in the fifth round, dropping Despatie down the standings.
Then came the killer on which he could muster only an un-Alex 22.10.
How unfortunate that his blue moon eclipse happened at the Olympics, on the final dive, which meant an 11th place finish.
That last round was otherwise thrilling. A mere 1.25 points separated leader Qin Kai of China and Zakharov, the 21-year-old from Leningrad at his first Olympics. Qin scored 89.10 for his final effort, a reverse 2 ½ somersault with 1 ½ twists. Gold would be determined by what happened next as Zakharov approached the board for his big trick, the 4 ½ somersault.
Zakharov re-emerged, pumping his arm in triumph.
“After the last dive, when I came up to the surface and I heard the noise, that’s when the happiness swept over me.”
So, applause-applause for the young man, for Russia.
But a mighty clap on the back for Despatie too, his triumph of a different order, measured not just in the 413.35 overall result.
“I have to be proud of the fact that I went all the way with what I set out to do, which was competing in my fourth Olympics. No matter what happened, no matter how big the bump was going to be, I was going to be here to compete. And I did.”