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Despatie captures silver

From Wednesday's Globe and Mail

Athens — Alexandre Despatie could have given up. And he almost did.

The 19-year-old from Laval, Que., thought about throwing in the towel, so to speak, after he blew his third dive in the men's three-metre springboard final yesterday at the Summer Olympics.

"Giving up is always there," Despatie said.

He said he was both angry and sad after his attempt at a reverse 3 1/2 somersault was scored 10th among the 12 finalists' efforts in that round of the competition. When he hit the water, Despatie left behind a big, messy splash, and coach Michel Larouche looked away in shock before the judges' marks went up, one a 5.5 out of 10.

"We know that making that kind of mistake at this level costs a lot," Larouche said. But overall, Despatie was in third place, and Larouche knew there was still hope.

And his diver didn't have much time to mope, with only about 15 minutes between dives. On he went.

Solid fourth and fifth dives kept Despatie in third place overall before he nailed his final attempt to edge past former Olympic champion Dmitri Sautin of Russia for the silver medal.

With the effort, Despatie became the first Canadian man to win an Olympic diving medal — something that took a moment to register.

As he climbed out of the water to loud cheers at the Olympic Aquatic Centre, Despatie initially thought he just had a lot of friendly supporters. But when he saw Larouche on the deck "happy and jumping," he knew.

Despatie finished with a total of 755.97 points, 31.41 points behind gold medalist Peng Bo of China, who steamed through the event without making a mistake. Sautin was third with 753.27, only 2.70 behind Despatie.

Despatie beamed on the medal podium. Later, he said he felt he had won the silver medal, not lost the gold, especially because he figured he had lost the event halfway through it.

"It was really hard to stay focused at the end," he said. "I think that was a very important thing for me.

"Now, I know that no matter what happens, I'm able to come back. ..... And I was able to come back when it counts. This is not just another Grand Prix [diving event]. This is the Olympic Games."

The confidence boost can only bode well for Despatie. The reigning world champion on the 10-metre platform will participate in his specialty later this week.

Last year, Despatie was sixth in the three-metre springboard at the world championships behind 22-year-old Russian Alexander Dobroskok, who finished seventh yesterday.

Larouche said Despatie has a world of potential on the three-metre springboard.

"The sky is the limit," he said, adding Despatie is only three-quarters of the way to reaching it.

Larouche said that if Despatie had nailed his third dive, which had a high degree of difficulty, 3.5, it would have put pressure on his opponents and changed the momentum of the event.

Even so, Despatie defeated his idol, Sautin.

"I feel a little bad about it," Despatie said. He said Sautin, 30, has been battling injuries all season and he hadn't seen him compete before yesterday. "It's amazing he was able to do such a performance tonight."

"My health is not what it used to be," said Sautin, who has been battling shoulder problems. But with the third-place finish, the Russian bumped his career Olympic medal haul to seven: two gold, a silver and four bronze.

Despatie's performance yesterday was an emotional ride for Larouche, who has coached him since he was 5, after he showed up on the deck at the Claude Robillard Centre in Montreal looking very, very short.

But Despatie listened to feedback and quickly moved up the diving ladder, winning a Commonwealth Games gold medal when he was 13. "You see all those years go by," Larouche said. "You see the little kid he was."

Despatie's medal helped raise Canada's total at Athens to seven: two gold, four silver and a bronze.

"Hopefully, this can cheer people up," he said. "But everybody's going to do their thing.

"I did my thing today, I ended up with the silver, but if the team can cheer up with that, it's a good thing."

Despatie has only two days left to train for the 10-metre tower preliminaries, which will begin on Friday. He had no time to celebrate his medal win last night, knowing he'd be back at the pool for practice in the morning and later cheering on his fellow Canadian divers in the women's three-metre springboard.

"Mentally and physically, it's very hard," Despatie said. "I know tomorrow I'm going to be sore.

"There's so much adrenalin, so much energy, so much everything. But once that 10-metre event starts, [any pain is] gone once that adrenalin starts pumping."

Philippe Comtois of Laval, 12th after the preliminaries, just missed advancing to the final, finishing 13th in the semi-final yesterday.

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