He could be forgiven for not feeling like doing this, for succumbing to the nagging doubts that plague us all.
But the thing is, Alex Despatie’s not wired that way.
Even though the two-time Olympic silver medalist suffered a horrific injury when he glanced his head off a diving board during a practice session in Spain in June, Despatie will compete in this fourth Olympic Games.
“I’m resting a lot, I’m staying well away from crowds and shopping malls, I don’t watch TV, I’m concentrating on what I have to do,” said Despatie, who arrived at the Athletes’ Village on Thursday. “Anything can happen, the best in the world can slip on the board, diving’s like that.”
The multiple world champion’s Olympic program kicks off on Aug. 1 with the men’s synchronized three-metre springboard, he will also compete in the individual event five days later.
Whether he’s ready to perform the demanding forward 4.5-somersault that could well be required to win a medal in the individual springboard remains an open question – although coach Arturo Miranda pointed out Despatie won a bronze at an Olympic tune-up without the quad.
“We don’t know what our strategy is going to be, it’s one of his dives, it’s on the list . . . I want to see a little bit more of that dive,” he said. “It’s like when you put a pitcher in, you decide at the last second if he’s a lefty or a righty. We’re going to look at how the situation is developing.”
That Despatie has recovered from a shredded scalp and is in London contemplating strategic possibilities was a fact saluted by pretty well everyone he has run across on the pool deck, including his fiercest rivals.
“The vast majority of people I’ve seen are happy that I’m here to compete, it feels really good. It’s a shame that it takes something like this, but it’s touching to see how much my colleagues and my friends support me,” he said. “Especially the Chinese guys. Big hugs and ‘are you all right?’ I’ve always said really are friends and it goes beyond diving and that’s where you see it.”
Despatie also addressed the fact that his injury was more calamitous than it might have originally seemed – as his mother put it to a Toronto Star columnist, “he was scalped.”
The injury was initially described as a gash 10 centimetres wide.
“I knew it wasn’t 10 centimetres,” he laughed Saturday. “It was bad, it wasn’t a small accident, I never said anything different after it happened . . . but the net result is a positive: my concussion was nowhere near as severe as it would have been,” he said. “If I had hit my forehead one centimetre lower, I’d be sitting at home right now, I wouldn’t have been able to dive for at least 30 days after. So I was lucky with my bad luck. The difference between being here or not is almost nothing. That’s going to be in my head for the rest of my life.”
It’s not that Despatie was deliberately trying to muddy the waters as to the full extent of his injury, “I just didn’t want to dramatize it unnecessarily. Yes, it’s important to talk about it with the media, to tell people what happened, but I had to turn the page if I wanted to get back to training and preparation for the Olympics.
“What I do with my hair, what I do with the scar, that’s the farthest thing from my mind,” said Despatie, whose scar circles most of his scalp – it’s more obvious in the pool when his hair is wet.
Despatie would dearly love to win a medal with his synchro partner, Reuben Ross of Regina – the two have had precious little time to train together in the last 18 months, first because of a knee injury Despatie suffered, then because of the latest mishap.
“It’s not an ideal situation, but you don’t always get what you want. After it happened, I knew I still had a job to do . . . there’s no point saying ‘man I wish this hadn’t have happened’ or ‘wow, this sucks’. I just need to make sure I’m ready to go when he’s ready to go,” Ross said. “I knew he would be ready when the time comes . . . with any sport, you have to be willing to deal with whatever comes your way.”
Miranda, who is Despatie’s former synchro partner, said the first time Despatie performed the inward 3.5-somersault after the injury was a big moment.
The dive, at a practice session in Rome (watch here), was a key moment in the 27-year-old Despatie’s recovery.
“It was huge, I don’t think he was scared, but he was very emotional about the fact he got hurt doing that dive,” Miranda said. “Being on hold, on ice, for three weeks, that was the hard part, and that’s why he got emotional, not because of the accident itself.”
For the past year, Despatie has been working with sports psychologist Wayne Halliwell, who helped prepare freestyle skier Alexandre Bilodeau for his gold medal run in Vancouver two years ago.
Given the strength of the Chinese team, gold is likely out of reach for Despatie, but it would be a poor idea to bet against him wearing another type of metal around his neck in a fortnight’s time.
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