A hero's walk This is not the blog post I expected to write. To be honest, I'd already crafted in my head an uplifting summary of a medal win after the Men's Synchronized 3-metre Springboard Final at the Aquatics Centre, in the Olympic Park in London. Instead, I, like a huge following of Alexandre Despatie's fans across Canada, am trying to make sense of a dismal slip-up, a disappointment, a performance that was so far below what the two-time Olympic silver medalist is capable of. Alexandre did not go the podium, especially not after his last dive, but that's not what I'm focusing on at the moment. I certainly won't sugarcoat Alexandre's missed medal opportunity, nor would I wish to detract from the three medal winners earned Olympic honours fair and square, just as Alexandre has done at two earlier Olympic Games. Alexandre's performance was way off his mark. At first the final dive looked like a slip, but perhaps not. The fact that he had to wait so long on the end of the diving board until the cheers and roars simmered down for British favourite Chris Mears who preceded him could have been a factor. But it's all a mystery. There are some things we do know for sure. We know that Alexandre made a remarkable recovery after he suffered a 10-centimetre gash in his head after he slammed into a diving board during a practice in Barcelona in June. We know that within days of surgery, the young athlete from Quebec declared he would indeed compete in the London Summer Games.
We also have proof of Alexandre's track record of wins: * Silver at the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games * Silver at the Athens 2004 Olympic Games * Two Gold at the 2005 World Championships * Gold at the 2003 World Championships * 2000 Guinness Book of World RecordsWe also know that earlier in the competition Alexandre stood a solid chance of taking home a medal. Take a look at the scoreboard rankings after round 4: he stood in 2nd place. [caption id="attachment_12567" align="aligncenter" width="330" caption="In round 4 of 6, Alexandre was ranked No. 2."] [/caption] But there are other things we saw at Olympic Park on Tuesday night that determine this is not a story about losing. Alexandre came out of the Aquatics Centre, head held high, thanked his supporters (there was a big crowd waiting for him) and then he buried himself in the arms of his mom, Christiane, his father, Pierre, and sister, Anouk. His words to the waiting well-wishers? I heard no regrets, no beating himself up (though his mother mentioned earlier that Alexandre is incredibly hard on himself) but the athlete only had one thing to express: "Thank you. Merci pour tout." [caption id="attachment_12572" align="aligncenter" width="330" caption="Alexandre Despatie hugging his family (Photo: Doug O'Neill)"] [/caption]
•••[caption id="attachment_12575" align="aligncenter" width="330" caption="Alexandre Despatie and his father, Pierre, after a missed medal opportunity"] [/caption]
•••There's another factor that makes this a story about winning, not losing: This is man who has a legacy - and how many people do you know have a legacy by the age of 27? Alexandre, simply by competing and working so hard at his sport since he was a young teen, has mentored a generation of Canadian youth. His family, in showing their never-ending support of Alexandre, have become a model for many families. Both Alexandre and his mother, Christiane, have been involved in the Thank You Mom campaign which was designed by Procter and Gamble (around the world) to celebrate the roles of moms and other supportive figures in the lives of young athletes. This family does it well, and genuinely. I've watched Alexandre at televised medal presentations in the past. I've seen him strut across the floor and step up to the podium, bow, and accept the medal as it was draped around his neck. Last night was different. I watched as Alexandre walked from the exit of the Aquatic Centre, greet supporters, hugged his family, and thanked his fans. Perhaps he didn't have his usual dynamic energy energy, but he did possess grace and sportsmanship. This was not the walk of a defeated Olympian. [caption id="attachment_12577" align="aligncenter" width="330" caption="Alexandre Despatie's last Olympic dive (Photo: Doug O'Neill)"] [/caption]
•••The motto imprinted on the backdrop to the diving board at the Olympic Aquatic Centre couldn't have been more fitting: "Inspire a generation." Alexandre Despatie and his family do just that. It's worth a gold medal on its own.