Men’s 10m : Diving Canada looking towards the future
With the recent retirement of two-time Olympian Vincent Riendeau from competitive platform diving, Diving Canada is now looking to its Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games rookies of Nathan Zsombor-Murray from Pointe-Claire, QC and Rylan Wiens from Pike Lake, SK to carry the team through the next few years on the lead-up to the 2024 Olympic Games in Paris.
Their podium performances at the 2022 Winter National Diving Championships in Saskatoon, SK, demonstrated that Canada has a bright future on men’s 10m. Wiens broke a 15-year-old record when he won the event with a score of 545.95 – shattering the former mark of 535.50 set by Alexandre Despatie in 2007. Meanwhile, Zsombor-Murray posted a score of 511.20 pts to earn a silver medal.
At 18-years-old, Zsombor-Murray is no stranger to the international diving scene, having made his international debut at the age of 14 at the 2017 World Championships where he competed in mixed synchro with Meaghan Benfeito. He started competing with Riendeau in synchro in 2019, capturing a silver medal at the 2019 Pan American Games in Lima, as well as bronze medals in 2020 and 2021 at FINA events in Montreal and Tokyo.
In his Olympic debut in Tokyo, he narrowly missed qualifying for the 10m platform final by 2.55 points, and then finished off the podium in fifth in 10m synchro with Riendeau – stoking the fire to improve on this performance in 2024.
“I think now that I’ve been to a Games, I sort of know what I’m getting myself into a bit and that’s where the motivation comes from. I have the experience and I’m going to try to utilize that experience to do better at the next Olympics,” said Zsombor-Murray.
Wiens, aged 20, had a stellar year in 2021, when a breakout performance at a FINA World Cup in Tokyo earned him a bronze medal in the 10m platform, and earned Canada a second Olympic spot on platform. Wiens would go on to claim that spot for himself by finishing second at the Olympic Trials. At the Olympics, he just missed qualifying for the semi-finals, finishing in 19th place overall, but says that the experience taught him a lot.
“The experience itself was pretty amazing. Being able to go, and to go with Nathan, one of my best buds on the team, and then just experience the whole thing together was really cool. But I guess the biggest takeaway I had was probably that we deserve to be there. And even though at the Games, I didn’t perform my best,it was a very good warm-up for Paris.”
Zsombor-Murray also learned a lot from his first Games experience: “My biggest takeaway from the Games is that I think you really have to learn how to pace yourself because you don’t want to give it your all in the prelims and then not have anything to show for the semis and finals. You’ve also got to try to keep your excitement to a minimum and not spend too much energy because it’s a long competition.”
With the retirement of Vincent Riendeau, Canada will be be considering new synchro pairings on 10m, and with Wiens and Zsombor-Murray finishing first and second respectively at the recent national championships, they are likely to be paired up to compete in synchro on the worlds’ stage.
Though they’ve never competed together in synchro, they were almost forced to make their international synchro debut at the Tokyo Olympics.
“Vincent hurt himself two days before the synchro competition. I felt terrible for him – he was just such a good role model for the two of us, especially in the last four years. We were scrambling because we needed someone to do synchro and so Nathan and I had to throw together a synchro list because someone had to be ready to compete the next day!”
Luckily, Riendeau was able to compete, but Wiens said it was an exciting experience all the same: “It was pretty crazy, and just another bit of a roller coaster that’s part of the Olympics. It was cool, but also a little bit nerve wracking. At the end of the day, I didn’t compete, but it was an exciting experience to go out there and do a whole synchro list and do it pretty well with Nathan.”
If they do end up competing together, Zsombor-Murray says it will be a slightly different dynamic from the one he shared with Riendeau, mostly due to Wiens and him being closer in age: “Vince was six years older than me and Rylan is 20. Vince and I were definitely fooling around on the tower a lot, but I think being closer in age maybe changes that dynamic a little bit. There’s less of a mentor and trainee kind of vibe going on.”
For Wiens, he knows that he and Zsombor-Murray will mesh really well together as they’re good friends already, but also solid competitors: “I think the fact that we’re competitors and we compete against each other in individual, it’s going to be a constant competition within synchro, and then also the competition to do the best dives so we can go get medals. Synchro is a little bit like a head-to-head competition every time you compete; but honestly, I’m just out there to enjoy it.”
It will be a busy year for both athletes, with the Summer National Diving Championships coming up in Victoria, BC (May 27-29), followed by a FINA Grand Prix event in Calgary, AB (June 9-12), the FINA World Championships in Budapest, HUN (June 26 – July 3) and then the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham, GBR (August 4-7).
Despite that busy schedule, Diving Canada Chief Technical Officer Mitch Geller cites training as being more of a priority than competition this year as the clock ticks towards Paris.
“What’s most important to us this year is establishing a foundation that we can work from as we start going forward to Paris. So, this year, training is being prioritized over competition,” says Geller. “We know that we need more strength and power from our younger divers that are taking over the mantle, certainly in men’s platform, and so we have to give them the time to do that without the pressures of peaking for competition.”
Zsombor-Murray agrees with this sentiment: “Definitely, strength and power is always helpful, as well as being technically sound and consistent. My coach has started to increase my volume, doing more dives on 10m, with more repetitions, and just building up that sort of endurance strength. Diving is a sport of repetition. You can’t really be great at something or great at a dive right off the get-go. You have to work on it just so that you build up consistency. That’s the plan right now – build up consistency and obviously try to keep the same technique.”
Both athletes started diving at a young age, so what keeps them engaged in the sport and eager to improve day after day? For Wiens, he credits his desire to keep learning new dives, and perfecting those dives, as well as a bit of an appetite for adrenaline: “I personally like the adrenaline coming off the tower. I’m an adrenaline junkie – inside of diving and out, and when I’m standing up there to do the front four and a half, I can feel my heart pumping and I’m like, ‘Oh, this is fun!’”
For Zsombor-Murray, it’s the reward of a job well-done and loving what he does that keeps him coming back: “I do it because I love it. It keeps me in shape and it keeps me healthy. But I’d say that the reward that comes with years of training and getting to a big competition you’ve worked so hard for and then diving your best and being rewarded — there’s no other feeling like that on Earth. I guess it’s the chase that keeps me coming back to practice. I want to get that feeling again. If I don’t work for it, it’s not going to happen.”
Canada will get the chance to see if Zsombor-Murray and Wiens have what it takes to medal on the international stage this year, starting with the Futures Cup (May 14-15) in Plymouth, GBR. They will also face stiff opposition from young emerging talent such as Benjamin Tessier, a bronze medalist from the 2022 Winter Nationals, as well as Matt Cullen, a gold medalist from the 2021 Junior Pan American Championships.
If all goes well, Canada will be a force to be reckoned with in the men’s 10m individual and synchronized events come the summer of 2024 at the Olympic Games in Paris.
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